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Alaska’s dream: Ghost Town in the Sky opens for the season

fr alaska“See that up there?” asked Alaska Presley as she piloted her Mercedes up a back road to the top of Ghost Town in the Sky. “That’s the drop tower there.” 

The drop tower, a bygone amusement ride, will be removed eventually. Presley explained that one day a large cross will be erected on that spot. 

“Can’t you just imagine being down at the bottom and looking up at that cross?” she said. 

Big plans for the future. But first, this summer’s opening of Ghost Town, the Maggie Valley amusement park that Presley has fought to keep in the realm of the living for the past few years.

“I predict a good season,” Presley said about a week prior to the park’s June 20 opening date. “I think we’re going to do well.”

Presley purchased Ghost Town for a song on the auction block in 2012. She wasn’t inclined to buy the park, but had already invested about half a million dollars into it with the previous owners.

“It was either bid on it or lose it,” Presley said. 

The park was sold at the Haywood County Courthouse. Purchased out of foreclosure for $1.5 million.

“Of course, I was delighted,” said Presley, who had grown quite wealthy over the years working real estate and has been involved with the park in various capacities since its inception in the early 1960s.

The new owner found the park to be in a state of disrepair. Over the past few years, she has worked to restore the venue and lure in throngs of visitors.

Presley’s first years were rough. Since purchasing the park, she has only been able to open late in the season and with limited offerings. 

But she feels better about this year. The rides are serviced, city water has been run throughout the park and the shooting galleries have been refurbished. The chairlift seems to be humming nicely, 41 employees have been hired and Presley is excited about the additions of hand-scooped ice cream and hand-tossed pizza. 

“This time now I think I’m totally prepared,” she said.

Standing along the Western-town façade on the upper level, Presley surveyed the sweeping view afforded at the park. 

“Now, where in the world can you go and find this?” the owner smiled as she motioned over the expanse. 

Rolling through the park in her Mercedes, Presley pointed out the various attractions. There’s the haunted house and the kiddie rides and the concessions. The Cliffhanger, the park’s roller coaster, is still out of commission. 

“I haven’t decided what to do with it,” she said of the coaster, a ride for which repair may prove prohibitively expensive.

The park seems to have stood still in time, never wavering from the 1960s vacation experience it has always offered. Critics have noted that no one is interested in such a nostalgic experience, but Presley doesn’t buy it.

“They want that,” she contends. “Just about everybody that comes here says, ‘I came here as a kid.’”

But Presley says she also wants to offer park visitors something new, and provide the park with a “shot in the arm.”

“That’s the reason this section up here is going to be Resurrection Mountain,” she said, heading higher up the mountain.

Resurrection Mountain, which Presley also refers to as the Holy Land, is Presley’s dream.

“I just dreamed it up,” she said.

At the park’s highest point sits a defunct stretch of attractions. If the dream is one day realized, this area will be transformed into a Biblical-themed attraction.

“Right there will be the cross,” Presley said, pointing to the selected site. 

Off to the side, she described a gold and white palace in the proximity of the ghostly America’s Music Hall Entertainment Showcase building. Where Fort Cherokee now lingers, there will be a Roman outpost. A small Flying Dutchman ride will be transformed into a Noah’s Ark attraction. 

“I think it’ll work,” Presley said. “It takes a lot of imagination.”

But Resurrection Mountain is a dream in the distance. One that will require resources and stamina. A dream that has yet to dig in.

For now, Presley has her plate full with Ghost Town. She’d like to see it return to its yesteryear boom time, when upwards of 15,000 people would descend upon the mountain theme park.

“To get back into the heyday that I’ve seen here before,” Presley said.

But why? Why does this millionaire feel the need to revive an amusement park that has been left for dead by the passing years?

“It’s just a feeling that I had that I wanted reciprocation, more or less,” said Presley.

The park owner described how her family lived and thrived in Maggie Valley. They owned multiple businesses and the community was good to them. 

Now, Presley would like to be able to give back to that community. She wants to provide the area with a source of joy.

“I want to make it a happy place,” Presley said.

Beyond that, she’d like Ghost Town to contribute to the area’s foundation. She’d like to see the park draw in tourists and their dollars. She’d like Ghost Town to become “an asset to Haywood County.”

“For businesses to do well and people to be happy,” Presley said. 

But Presley is also working to revive Ghost Town because she can’t not do it.

“I just enjoy creating things, something that’s useful and something that’s permanent,” Presley said. “I like being busy. I’ll never retire.”

 Like her vision for the park itself, Presley is striving to offer something that brings joy to people. She wants to see them smile like they did in the heyday.

“Does that sound silly?” Presley asked.


Opening day

Ghost Town in the Sky opens for the season June 20. Season passes are available for $39.95 per person, and free opening weekend passes are being offered as a promotion on the park’s Facebook site. Daily ticket prices are $24.95 for adults and $14.95 for children ages three to 12. Kids two and under are free.

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