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Maggie Valley NC Attractions - Ghost Town in the Sky

July 24, 2014 by Rick Morris

Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley NC is a western-themed amusement park resting at the top of Buck Mountain (at nearly 4,700 feet in elevation) overlooking Maggie Valley and the Great Smoky Mountains.  At one time (1960s and 1970s), Ghost Town was a big draw for western North Carolina.  In recent years however, it has been fraught with peril as attendance has dropped significantly.  It has become somewhat the laughing stock of theme parks in America, due mainly because the concept of the "cowboy hero" died since those days when the Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and other western television shows impressed children.  This is the main reason why Ghost Town is a ghost town.

If you want to see just how hokie Ghost Town is, try to survive the first few minutes of this "gun fight".  Observe closely, as there are literally dozens of guests at the park this day...

There are two ways for visitors to summit the park: a 1,240 foot climb in elevation on the chair lift (3,370-feet long) or via the nail-biting train ride (if it is operational that day).

Ghost Town's "mile-high theme park" has a storied history.  R.B. Coburn was the original creator while Russell Pearson designed and built the park in 1960, at a cost of $1 million.  By May Day of the following year, Ghost Town was open for business, and soon landed the top spot for tourist attractions in this part of the state.  In part because this was an era of wild west heroes, the popularity of the park skyrocketed.  In the years that followed, as many as 600,000 visitors arrived each year.

Coburn sold Ghost Town in 1973 to National Services but repurchased it in 1986.  It was then that the Cliffhanger roller coaster was installed.  But poor management, accidents, and general upkeep of the rides led to a reduction in attendance. By 2008, numbers had dropped to around 300,000 visitors per year.  In one incident, the chair lift malfunctioned, resulting in a two-hour  event that left passengers stranded in their seats.  Within a week, the park was closed and put up for sale.

After a five-year hiatus and almost $40 million in repairs and renovations, the new owner reopened Ghost Town in 2007.  But, within two years, the park went into bankruptcy, a partial response to the failing economy.  It was planned that the park would reopen the following summer.  But, money was needed for inspecting the park - $330,000 in fact.  Ghost Town asked the town of Maggie Valley for the funding, reminding the community of the park's importance to the local economy.  But, before the vote, Ghost Town received the funds from an anonymous investor. 

The park opened on schedule, with the exception of a few rides which had not been inspected.  And, at least one new ride, the Geronimo Drop was added.  Additionally, Ghost Town announced a $27 million plan for improving the park. 

Growth, unfortunately, did not happen for Ghost Town.  By the end of the 2009 season they were having trouble paying their employees.  Adding more anguish to an already bad situation, a mudslide occurred as a result of a retaining-wall collapse on park property in early 2010.  Several homes were damaged and the service road was buried.  A federal grant paid for the road repairs.  A month later SunTrust and BB&T Banks foreclosed on Ghost Town, to settle $14 million in debt.  After renewed negotiations failed, American Heritage Family Parks took control of Ghost Town, offering SunTrust $7 million and BB&T $5 million after restructuring.  They also agreed to pay $100,000 in back taxes to the Haywood County. 

By the following year, the bankruptcy case fell through and foreclosure was imminent.  In 2012, Alaska Presley purchased Ghost Town at public auction.  Presley was an original investor and previous owner of the park. 

Three phases of improvements to Ghost Town were planned.  Phase 1's Level Town (kiddie rides, round-up, zipline,etc.) and Phase 2's Western Town (cowboys, gun fights, can-can dancing, music) were completed by 2014, while Phase 3's "Resurrection Mountain" (teasing the area's religious flock with a replica of the Holy Land) was to open in the summer of 2014.  Or so it has been announced. 

Today Ghost Town is promoted as "Smoky Mountain Headquarters for Fun!" and features the three aforementioned "towns" - one on each of the three levels at the top of the mountain.  The Western Town entails two saloons, a bank, church, jail, school, and other cowboy town businesses.  A gunfight occurs each day at the top of the hour in the middle of the street.  There are can-can dancers in the saloons and bluegrass music throughout. 

The Cliffhanger roller coaster (previously the Red Devil) takes riders over the edge of the mountain and through a single loop, giving them amazing views of the mountains.   A major draw for Ghost Town, the Cliffhanger has also struggled to survive.  After two years of closure, it opened in 2009 for two days.  More inspections and repairs were needed after a hairline crack was discovered in the frame of one of the ride's seats.  Ouch!  After repairs by the manufacturer, Cliffhanger reopened and performed flawlessly for the final few weeks of the 2009 season.  But in early 2010 more problems with the coaster were discovered a day before Ghost Town opened. As a result, the Cliffhanger was not operational for the 2010 season.  Of course, riders could enjoy the smaller kiddie coaster, the "Tumbleweed".

Ghost Town is scheduled to open June 20, 2014.  UPDATE - Did NOT open until July 4, 2014.  Starting to look like "Joke Town in the Sky", if you ask me.

According to their website, new attractions include Picnic Point, Lookout Trail, and Stage Coach Restaurant.  Of course, if you want any real information about Ghost Town, you'll not get it from the website.  There aren't even any photos of the rides or attractions.  But, hey... if you get bored, you can click on the "history" link to learn their version of the park's history - mostly the grand beginnings of Ghost Town.  Yawn.

The question that's on everyone's minds is, "will Ghost Town prevail under new leadership and save the economy of Maggie Valley NC?"  That remains to be seen.  We should know something by the end of this season.

Daily admission is "free".  Right.  But, tickets to ride the chair lift to the actual park are $25 for adults and $15 for children 3-12.  The zip lines are $45 for adults and $40 for children.

Ghost Town in the Sky
16 Fie Top Road
Maggie Valley, NC 28751
828-926-1130


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Try one of the other Maggie Valley area attractions.

 

What to See & Do in Maggie Valley NC

Ghost Town in the Sky
A western-themed amusement park resting at the top of Buck Mountain (at nearly 4,700 feet in elevation) overlooking the Maggie Valley and the Great Smoky Mountains.

Wheels Through Time
Probably the best vintage motorcycle museum in North America, the Wheels Through Time is for anyone who loves old bikes.

Maggie Valley Ski
Operating for more than 50 years, Cataloochee Ski Area is your mountain top skiing and snowboarding getaway when visiting Maggie Valley NC.


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Maggie Valley Area History
Discover the rich culture and history of Maggie Valley, North Carolina!

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