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A modest proposal for reviving Ghost Town in the Sky

Cory Vaillancourt photo Cory Vaillancourt photo

By Case Brown • Guest Columnist | The on-and-off again investment deals for the embattled Ghost Town amusement park are familiar to anyone who reads these pages. Multiple meandering deals and their abrupt course corrections feel remarkably like the Black Widow ride that used to jerkily sling mountain ilk around to the soothing sounds of raging death metal picked by the latest pimpled carnie operator.

Puke-inducing memories aside, I have a modest proposal for the beleaguered beast atop Maggie’s Buck Mountain. We have the unique opportunity here to increase renewable energy storage and resolve the overtourism problem burgeoning in the mountain region.

It’s called “Mountain Gravity Energy Storage.” Now, hold your disbelief for a minute and hear me out …

The oft-mentioned drawback with renewable energy is that the sun only shines during the day and wind only blows intermittently. The production of clean energy must be paired with some type of energy storage to make the whole system viable. Batteries are expensive, decay over time, and unfortunately drag with them a whole host of environmental impacts from rare earth minerals mining to toxic manufacturing and waste disposal. But a battery need not be based on electro-chemical energy. Batteries can use any type of energy that can be stably stored and reliably released. Gravity just happens to be the type of energy that exerts force all the time. It does so with brutal consistency — as all you weekend-warrior hikers will grumpily attest. 

Here comes the pitch about Ghost Town in the Sky … 

With a little mountain ingenuity, that grand chairlift and funicular train could carry heavy loads from the valley floor to the top of the mountain during surplus energy-generating hours (i.e., sunny/windy days). These “loads” could be stored at Ghost Town for variable periods of time. When the sunsets are over and the winds die down, gravity bestows upon us the gift of free energy. The “loads” come down off the mountain during these low energy periods, using their weight and the 1,250 feet of steep, mountainous decline to turn a massive turbine which generates electricity. 

I can’t see the need to come up with some cockamamie scheme to carry heavy rocks, everybody’s unused kettle bells, or superfluous chainsaw bear sculptures up the mountain. The infrastructure is already perfectly suited to carry unsuspecting tourists and overstaying guests up that vertiginous incline. In fact, you might say it was specially designed to do that very thing. I think the engineering specs may have even adjusted for the lost weight from puke, dropped phones/flip-flops, and failed romances that accrue from the nauseating ascent. 

I can hear the snickering and the scoffs, but I am dead serious. Think about the unique convergences. Solar works best in the bright sun which coincides precisely when tourists clog the overloaded intersections, trailheads and overlooks all around this scenic county. The excess of navigation-inept, mountain-road-ignoring visitors could easily be stored atop the mountain during the daylight hours. 

Why not go for a twofer? Ghost Town used to offer rides for the wild “younginz” while still providing some music/street theater entertainment for the mature crowd in one ticket. Let’s update that double feature with an energy storage system that concentrates view-seeking tourists off the roads at peak times. Then, as they trickle down the mountain, substantially more energy-dense with greasy carnival food and big gulp drinks in their bellies, the turbines will turn and fuel all the AC units, bluegrass concerts, and distilleries for free. 

This is the rare win-win-win. Ghost Town gets its renewed investment, tourists get their sunset selfies with a thrill, and county residents get reliably timed errand runs into town along with free energy generation. The ROI is practically guaranteed because of the inexorable trend toward higher BMI. Even further, all those geo-tagged selfies and staged photos will inevitably attract more gawkers, rubberneckers, and in-laws. Let’s call it the FOMO dividend. #maggiegravity

That’s a heckuva deal. I’m open to naming rights, but am partial to the following options:

Ghost Town in Da-Skyze (say it aloud … you’ll get its sonic resonance)

2. Maggie’s Revenge (normal Maggie greets you in the valley … zombie Maggie grabs you up top)

3. The Cliffs at Buck Mountain (for the higher-paying suckers/visitors, funicular will serve Rosé)

4. Built-More (a little kitschy, but uses mountain-specific humor and built-in marketing)

p.s. In case you question the scientific merits of such an energy storage enterprise, I refer you to a November 2019 article in the journal Energy titled “Mountain Gravity Energy Storage: A new solution for closing the gap between existing short- and long-term storage technologies” by Hunt et al. Let’s get on the battery bandwagon (or chairlift) and get Ghost Town cranking again. 

Case Brown is a Haywood County native.

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