Final Shutdown: Beloved U.S. Theme Park Will Remain Closed for Good

in Theme Parks

A triptych of images showcasing different views of 'Ghost Town in the Sky,' an abandoned amusement park. The left image shows a "CLOSED" sign in a window, the center captures the main entrance sign, and the right displays a roadside sign against mountain scenery.

Credit: aroundthesunwego, X

The fate of one of America’s most cherished theme parks has been sealed.

Nestled amidst the scenic peaks of Maggie Valley, North Carolina, lies a haunting reminder of a bygone era: Ghost Town in the Sky. Once a vibrant haven of laughter and joyous screams, this Wild West-themed amusement park, established in 1961, captivated the hearts of countless visitors during its heyday.

A dirt street in a Western-themed town lined with wooden buildings on both sides. The buildings have various signs, including "General Store." Decorative pumpkins and cornstalks are placed near some buildings. A few people are visible in the scene.
Credit: The Smokies, X

The 1960s witnessed the park’s meteoric rise to popularity. Its unique mountaintop location, coupled with thrilling rides and captivating Wild West shows, attracted over 620,000 visitors annually. The park even enjoyed the patronage of celebrated Western television stars of the era, like those from “Laramie” and “Wagon Train,” further cementing its allure.

However, the winds of change began to buffet Ghost Town in the Sky. Under new management, difficulties arose. Crucial maintenance was neglected, leading to frequent breakdowns of rides and attractions. These issues, coupled with a growing reputation for unreliability, deterred potential visitors, causing a steady decline in attendance. By 2008, the park’s annual visitor count had plummeted to just 340,000, a stark contrast to its golden age.

Financial woes compounded the park’s problems. With dwindling visitor numbers, the park’s owners faced severe financial strain. This, in turn, led to employee discontent, as reports surfaced of unpaid salaries. This unfortunate confluence of factors ultimately sealed Ghost Town in the Sky’s fate, leading to its closure at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

Since then, the once-bustling amusement park has remained abandoned, its once-gleaming structures, rides, and attractions succumbing to the relentless passage of time. A poignant symbol of lost potential, Ghost Town in the Sky stands as a testament to the fleeting nature of amusement and the importance of meticulous management in sustaining the magic of a theme park experience.

A dirt street in a Western-themed town lined with wooden buildings on both sides. The buildings have various signs, including "General Store." Decorative pumpkins and cornstalks are placed near some buildings. A few people are visible in the scene.
Credit: The Smokies, X

Most recently, a lengthy legal battle concerning the defunct Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, has finally reached a resolution. The verdict favors Frankie Wood, the park’s managing partner.

Following 18 months of litigation, the N.C. Business Court judge dismissed Jill McClure’s lawsuit seeking the dissolution of Ghost Town in the Sky, LLC. This decision grants Mr. Wood, the managing partner, significant authority over the future development of the Buck Mountain property.

The late Alaska Presley, a dedicated figure in Maggie Valley’s development, acquired the bankrupt Ghost Town in the mid-2010s with the intention of reviving it. Numerous entities had previously attempted and failed to revitalize the park over the preceding 15 years. However, Presley, with her resources and commitment, was considered a strong candidate for success.

Sadly, Ms. Presley passed away at 98 before she realized her vision. In her later years, she partnered with Mr. Wood, who promised to secure financial backing for the project. Following Ms. Presley’s passing, her 50% ownership stake in the LLC passed to her niece, Jill McClure. This resulted in a 50/50 ownership split between Ms. McClure and the Wood-managed LLC.

Dissatisfied with the perceived lack of progress and alleging exclusion by Mr. Wood, Ms. McClure filed a lawsuit. The lawsuit contended that the equal ownership structure impeded progress and called for the LLC’s dissolution and property sale.

However, Judge Adam Conrad based his decision on Ms. Presley’s designation of Mr. Wood as managing partner. While this grants Mr. Wood control over day-to-day operations, Ms. McClure’s consent remains necessary for “extraordinary acts” such as bankruptcy or complete asset disposal.

Ms. McClure acknowledges the limited influence she holds under the existing operating agreement.

While initial plans and publicity centered around redeveloping the property as an amusement park, Judge Conrad’s interpretation of the agreement allows for broader development options. This includes the current situation of managing the existing remnants of the park and surrounding land.

The conclusion of the lawsuit paves the way for renewed development plans for Buck Mountain. This includes potential discussions with Storyland Studios, a company previously involved in amusement park redevelopment proposals for Maggie Valley.

At this point, it remains unclear if Ms. Presley’s dream of the park reopening will ever come to life.

If you want to take a walk inside the abandoned theme park, The Proper People shared an in-depth look of its current state.

While major theme parks like Disney, Universal, Six Flags, and Cedar Fair could be good candidates to snatch up the land, its location being on the top of a mountain, while visually appealing, could cause further issues down the road. That being said, Disney is opening a Storyliving community in North Carolina.

The reception for Storyliving in California was so strong that a second location, Asteria in North Carolina, has also been approved. With these new communities, Disney is finding new homes and roots across America.

For fans of Ghost Town in the Sky, there is always Knott’s Berry Farm! Knott’s has its very own Ghost Town section of the park, filled with western style decor, buildings, characters, and more, as it was the first ever theme park to be built in the United States, with Ghost Town.

Another popular theme park that has also been closed for decades is Six Flags New Orleans. Much like Ghost Town in the Sky, the park remains in its original place, rotting itself away.

Hurricane Katrina ravaged Six Flags New Orleans, leaving it in ruins. Faced with immense repair costs and financial strain, Six Flags shuttered the park.

In 2021, Bayou Phoenix, a redevelopment group, emerged with a vision to revive the site. Their ambitious plan, unveiled in 2023, proposes a complete transformation.

A train passing by camp snoopy at Knott's berry farm, a famous California theme park
Credit: Knott’s Berry Farm

A first-of-its-kind indoor/outdoor water park anchors the project, complemented by two hotels and a vibrant retail district. While challenges remain, including a $1 billion price tag, initial progress is underway. Brush clearing, animal control, and team building are paving the way for demolition this summer. Securing key tenants will be crucial for finalizing financing.

Would you like to see Ghost Town in the Sky reopen? 

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