Driving down Maggie Valley’s main drag, it’s hard not to notice the gauntlet of signs offering cheers of support for Ghost Town in the Sky’s new owner Alaska Presley.
Business owners on both sides of U.S. 19 have rearranged the lettering on their message boards to thank or bless Presley for vowing to reopen Ghost Town, an amusement park that symbolizes past prosperity in Maggie Valley.
“It makes me feel good,” Presley said of the encouraging notes.
Ghost Town has been closed for two years after going into bankruptcy but was purchased earlier this year by Presley who plans to reopen the park that once brought droves of visitors to Maggie Valley.
Weeds and other plant life have grown up around Ghost Town’s attractions, adding to its unkempt look. As she toured the park last week, Presley pointed out bushes and trees that would need to come down or be trimmed back and areas where brush must be cleared. Presley has already hired workers to tackle the greenery and is looking for contractors to make other necessary repairs.
With a listed population of 681, the mock Wild West Town sits at an altitude of 4,600 feet. While obviously a victim of harsh mountaintop weathering, vandals left the most apparent blemishes — broken windows, doors and doorframes, and residue from fire extinguishers — throughout the small fictional town.
“The buildings to me seemed in pretty good shape,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce, adding that most of the work looked cosmetic.
Presley estimated that $2,500 worth of glass had been smashed but feels better now that she owns Ghost Town and can take action against any trespassers.
“Now, I can do something whereas before I didn’t have the authority,” Presley said.
Presley has dreamed of owning Ghost Town ever since its original owner put it up for sale 10 years ago. It was shuttered for three years, reopened under new owners for a couple of years, but then fell into bankruptcy and was once again closed. Presley rescued the park after striking a well-planned financial arrangement with BB&T. While BB&T was owed $9.5 million by the previous owners, Presley bought it last month for just $1.5 million.
But her work has only begun, as she embarks on a legacy project for the valley she loves: to restore the park to its former glory. The price tag is unknown, but she plans to tap her personal assets for the initial work.
Presley had previously remained quiet about some of her plans for Ghost Town’s revival but last week revealed her hopes to turn the highest of the park’s three levels into a religious-themed attraction.
The top level currently houses a concert hall, kiddy rides and Native American village. However, Presley plans to move the children’s rides to Ghost Town’s lowest level, where other rides currently reside, and get rid of the village.
In their place, Presley said she hopes to build large gold and white concert hall where people can hold religious events or performances. If her dream becomes a reality, the mountaintop would be crowned with statue of Jesus with a similar look to the one in Rio De Janeiro, Presley said.
A very long to-do list
For now, Presley is focused on getting Ghost Town’s core attractions up and running — fixing up the Old West town and getting the parks’ rides in working order — in hopes of a summer opening.
All the amusement rides, including the park’s signature roller coaster and its all-important chairlift that takes tourists up the mountain, must pass inspection with the N.C. Department of Labor. That had proved a hurdle for past owners, partly because of a strained relationship.
To get the ball rolling, Presley invited Cherie Berry, the state labor commissioner, to tour the amusement park last week along with Maggie Valley leaders and media.
During the tour of Ghost Town, Presley and Berry were “laughing, cutting up and holding hands,” Smith said. “That will be a really good working relationship.”
Representatives from the Department of Labor said they were not surprised by the appearance of the park. The equipment looked much like they thought it would, considering the weathering it has undergone during the past two years, said Tom Chambers, chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau at the Department of Labor.
State officials have not been asked to conduct comprehensive tests on Ghost Town attractions as of yet and therefore could not provide opinions on how much or what type of work the rides need. It is still up-in-the-air as to which rides still work.
“I don’t know what’s good and what’s not good,” Presley said.
No matter what, however, it is clear that Ghost Town still has its fans who will show up to visit the park when it opens. The Maggie Valley Chamber still receives messages everyday asking if Ghost Town is open.
Once Presley is able to fix transportation up the mountain, “I think people will be excited just to hear that the chairlift and incline are running,” Smith said.
As well as repairing the transit, however, Presley will need attractions that will draw all ages. One such addition would be a zipline, which Presley hopes to incorporate before opening.
A zipline would be “awesome,” Smith said. “The thrill lovers would love it.”