So much of this site sadly focuses on parks that have been lost, so a story like this one is rare. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before- A beloved children’s park that opened in the 1950s closed in the late 80s, fell into disrepair, and never opened again…We’ve told this story plenty of times.
However, in Ellicott City, MD-a truly magical thing took place when a farmer with a huge heart and a community that loved their park came together to resurrect a fallen friend. The story of The Enchanted Forest is unbelievable, but true. Outside of Baltimore, this park, which opened on August, 15 1955 and welcomed thousands of children and families for over 30 years was all but lost until a woman named Martha Clark came along and did the impossible.
It started in 2004-Clark’s Elioak Farm purchased a Pumpkin Coach and the locals were delighted to see a part of their childhood saved from uncertain doom. Along with the cooperation of the Shopping Center which now stood on the site of the former park, Clark’s Elioak farm began obtaining other items from the Enchanted Forest. For the next 10 years figures and buildings were carefully moved and lovingly repaired by volunteers and staff. Some characters, like Willie the Whale, which appeared to be lost forever were saved and restored by the incredible and talented Mark Cline. (See some of our previous features on Mark Cline if you like Dinosaurs and Monsters!)
Since that first pumpkin coach, more than 100 figures and buildings have been moved and restored to their former glory. I first visited in the summer of 2015, after I heard about one of the largest relocation projects in the farm’s history. They had managed to move the castle entrance gates and the beautiful Story Book signage that once stood along Route 40 to the farm. The iconic King, however, remains above the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center sign ruling over the local Safeway and Petco.
Fans of the park hope that one day he will be reunited with his kingdom. The castle gates were finished just in time for the park’s 60th Anniversary celebration, which now also takes place at Clark’s Farm every summer.
During my visit, I was constantly awestruck at the care and level of detail that went into the restoration project. I walked the grounds and at times became emotional thinking about how much someone had to care to do all of this. That is what makes places like this special. They hold onto a part of our childhood and some people will do anything to get that feeling back.
I spent several hours walking the farm and finding statues that I recognized from my books and post-cards. I had never visited the park in its original location, but I was familiar with its history and the people who brought it back to life.
I was walking through the gift shop when I spotted Martha Clark organizing some of the souvenirs and fresh food that was for sale. I approached her as if she were some sort of celebrity (in my mind she was!) I said “Excuse me, Are you Martha Clark?” and she said “Yes.” Seeming a bit embarrassed to be recognized. I didn’t expect it, but I became emotional as I thanked her. Tears came to my eyes as I told her “I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done here. This is just…amazing.” She smiled and said “Thank you-It’s a lot of hard work, but thankfully, I have so many people that help!” She went on to tell me that just that day a truck pulled up with the Queen of Hearts. She said “I’m not sure if she’s from the Enchanted Forest or not. I’ll have to do some research, but if she is, she’ll be out next year, so you’ll have to come back and see her!” And that is how it has always gone. Slowly rebuilding the park one piece at a time. Saving bits and pieces and putting it all back together. Martha probably doesn’t think of herself as a hero, but around here, she’s a hero to us! In a world that is often quick to bulldoze its past, she was brave enough (and maybe insane enough) to go about rescuing it.
Thank you to Martha Clark, to all of the volunteers, and the cooperation of the community, the friends and the family of the Enchanted Forest.
For decades of amazing family snapshots and some wonderful discussion be sure to join the Enchanted Forest Behind the Scenes Facebook Group!
To see what Clark’s Elioak Farm is up to, visit their site site here.
For Some of Mark Cline’s before & after work on the park-click here.
To dig really deep, check out the book: The Enchanted Forest: Memories of Maryland’s Storybook Park