THE STORYBOOK TALE BEHIND THE ENCHANTED FOREST SHOPPING CENTER
Enter the Enchanted Forest in Ellicott City, Maryland: A storybook amusement park built in 1955, making it the first theme park in Maryland and the East Coast, and the second oldest theme park in the country (Disneyland being the oldest). I went there as a child, as most Baltimoreans have.
The park was a staple of Howard County for more than three decades before closing in 1988. Afterward, JHP Realty bought the park and built the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, now a Safeway-anchored shopping center. The company reopened the park as a “Fun Jungle,” keeping a number of the nursery-rhyme figurines for guests to enjoy, as well as a merry-go-round and other attractions. Once it became unprofitable, the developer shuttered the mom-and-pop kids' attraction, but left behind the Enchanted Forest characters.
Mid-Atlantic Realty Trust bought the shopping center from JHP in 1997, prior to Kimco acquiring the company in 2003. After Kimco took ownership of the center, we tried to protect the figurines, but ran into some challenges. We realized that we couldn’t properly maintain them, and safety and preservation became a major concern as people would trespass into the restricted area to vandalize the figurines.
Clark’s Elioak Farm approached us and asked if we’d be willing to donate the figurines to the farm. Clark’s has a petting zoo, pine tree maze, cow train ride, and other seasonal activities. For them, the figurines would be an attraction for those who visited their site. We agreed, and they have already moved and restored more than 100 of the Enchanted Forest's structures since 2005. Now the figurines can be enjoyed in their full glory again by kids and adults alike.
Last year, we found that the storybook castle, still remaining at the Center, was deteriorating and unsafe. We had made some structural improvements, but realized that a tremendous amount of work was needed to keep it from collapsing and potentially hurting someone. We are currently in the process of funding and facilitating the transfer of a significant portion of the castle over to Clark’s, where it will serve the same purpose as it does on our property and welcome visitors to the farm. This summer, along with the castle, the last of the Enchanted Forest figurines will be removed from the shopping center -- just in time for a 60th anniversary celebration of the theme park at Clark’s on August 15.
Moving forward, we are going to add a plaque to the site denoting the history behind the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center. Old King Cole, who once welcomed visitors to the amusement park, will continue to sit on the Center’s pylon sign, greeting shoppers.
For those looking to follow the characters of the Enchanted Forest, the plaque will direct them to their new home -- Clark’s Elioak Farm.