Summer Memories: Enchanted Forest
As a kid when school was over for the year and summer was about to begin, the one thing I looked forward to was going to Enchanted Forest amusement park. The place was an hour north of me in a little town called Old Forge in the beautiful Adirondacks of New York. Enchanted Forest and Old Forge have been a major staple in my summer plans for years and I still visit that area when I go back to New York every year. Lots of great memories from that park which has been around since the 50’s and transformed into a water park in the late 80’s (which now is New York’s largest water park) but still kept the charm of the old amusement park which included characters from nursery rhymes all over the park and Paul Bunyan begin the official mascot of the place. Now I’ll take you on a trip through the Enchanted Forest and tell you some of my memories through the years.
First, a little history, Enchanted Forest, which was originally called The Enchanted Forest of the Adirondacks, was opened in the summer of 1956 by Richard Cohen who was a hardware store owner and commissioner for the Adirondack Authority. Back then the park was pretty much just fairy tale characters, a circus show, and had a small train that took you through the forest. In years to come it would later add more rides like a ferris wheel, bumper cars, merry-go-round, etc. The place was a great attraction for many people who lived in Upstate New York and Old Forge all ready being a great summer location for camping and boating, the added amusement park gave the town an extra treasure. The park would also go through a dramatic change in the 1980’s with the adding of water rides, but now I’ll take you back to the 1970’s when I first step foot into this magical forest.
Since I can remember I always use to go to Enchanted Forest every summer. With it being close and very inexpensive, I would often go to the park a few times in a summer. It was a great place for a kid and in a way it was my own Disney World. I can remember driving up there with my Mom and family. Going from Utica to Old Forge was a great trip. Driving up hills on the narrow roads with forest surrounding us, I anticipated going to the park and I couldn’t wait. After going on the long road, we would finally enter the town. Once I saw a sign that read entering Old Forge, I knew we were close. The town looked like it came out of Norman Rockwell painting. Very quite and peaceful and it has a 50’s style vibe (today it still has that feel). The park was about a mile into town and I always remember driving down this hill and I could see the place from there. First, I would see the Pied Piper fast food place. It was across the street from the park and had a big sign up on the building with a picture of a Pied Piper. I would also see a huge white arch that was in the parking lot of place and behind that was a castle like building which was the entrance and gift shop of the park and it had in huge letters on the building that read ENCHANTED FOREST.
When entering the park, the first thing you would see was a big colorful statue of Paul Bunyan. This was larger than life as a kid. Bunyan was also a great photo op for families to take and I have many pictures through out the years with the big giant. Then you would enter the forest that had a who’s who of nursery rhyme characters. We would take a trail that would lead all the way around the place. Most of the characters there had little houses that you could walk through and the statues of them would be glassed in and others were actually outside their houses or just by themselves. Some of the fairy tale characters they had were Sleepy Beauty, The Crooked Old Man, Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Bears, Cinderella, Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves, Hansel and Gretel, Humpty Dumpty, and others. There’s a Frontier town they have in the middle of the park that’s called Dawson City. There they have games and places to eat and a mock graveyard called Boot Hill. Also, at the end of the park is where they have all the rides. Mostly kiddy rides and ones you would find at a county fair. There was also a circus show, which they still have today. I never really cared for the circus, I always use to skip this when I was there. Other things in the park at that time were a petting zoo and a small replica of The Alamo, which is no longer there.
At that time the two big rides there were the train and the sky ride. The train didn’t go all through the park but just the back of it. We would see different fairy tale characters deep in the forest that you couldn’t see on the trail. Most of them weren’t made like the others, these were wooden cutouts. The conductor would narrate, as we would ride through the forest. I remember we would pass the back of Humpty Dumpty, who had a face on the back of him too for the purpose of the train ride. The face looked totally different from the one in the front and he only had arms and legs on the front side, not on the back. We would pass the circus set and the other rides in the back then we would go deep into the forest to an Indian village they had set up (which is no longer there) and then the train would turn back around and pick up speed and bring us back to the front of the park. The sky ride was just a straight shot back and forth above the middle of the park. That ride was all right, it was more of a relaxing ride after walking around all day.
Enchanted Forest wasn’t the only amusement park in Upstate New York. There was Storytown in Lake George, which was a few hours east of Utica and not as close as Old Forge. That park was started a few years before Enchanted Forest and it was kind of a bigger version of it. We use to go here as well on some summers. The place had more nursery rhyme characters, a bigger Frontier town (which was called Ghost town), more rides, a circus and some others shows, it also had a Jungle land as well. Then came Darien Lake, which started off as a campground near Rochester in the 60’s and became a fun park in the late 70’s. This park was different then the other two. They were no fairy tale characters and only rides, mainly big roller coasters. It was kind of like Busch Gardens, but without the animals. I only went to this park about two times in my life. Darien Lake changed the face of theme parks in the area and in 1983, Storytown changed its name to The Great Escape and ushered in roller coasters. The change tried to get more teens and young adults to go to the park. Enchanted Forest would soon follow suit, but instead of putting in crazy roller coasters, they went with something our area didn’t have, water rides. They built there first one in 1985, which was a tall water slide called Wild Waters. With the success of that they started to build more.
It’s funny, because the park kind of grew up with me in a way. As I got older, I stopped going to it because it didn’t appeal to me anymore. Then in the mid-80’s when they started to add water rides, I started to go back and with the park reinventing itself it was a prefect place for a teen just like it was a prefect place for a kid. I started going back to the park in 1986 after not being going there for about three or four years. They put in their second water ride, which was a tube one called the Raging Rapids. I remember waiting in long lines for both the slide and the rapids. Two years later in 1988, the park officially changed its name to Enchanted Forest Water Safari. That year they added more water slides and a huge river that you could circle around in a tube. One good thing, they still kept the nursery rhyme characters. Some characters went away along with a few attractions like The Alamo, but Dawson City, the circus, rides, and of course Paul Bunyan still stood tall there.
Water Safari was a hot spot in the summer for all teens. I remember the summers of ’88-’92, my friend Craig and I would go to the park. Going on all the new water rides over and over again. One ride that they had there I only went on once and never would go on it again. It was a very tall slide called Killermanjaro, that was a straight shot down. We knew it as the killer wedgie slide because that’s what it gave you when you went down it. Never again I would go on that slide. Each year they would add a new water ride or two. One year they added a huge wave pool. At one time Craig and I wanted to get jobs there over the summer. We thought that would be a dream job. We did apply once I think, but never heard back.
Since moving to Florida in the mid-90’s, I didn’t get a chance to go visit the park in the second half of the 90’s. I wouldn’t return to it until 2000 after an absent of six years. The place had more water rides, but still had the charm of its early years. I try to visit the park probably every other summer when I’m up in New York for a week. I make it one of my stops. Last I was up there was last summer, that’s when these pictures were taken I have in this article. The place is getting bigger and bigger. I went on a few water rides, but I also wanted to go through the forest and see some of the old characters. There still hanging in there after fifty years. All of them have been repainted and fixed through the years, but most are all still there. They also added a little museum of the park, which takes you back to each decade. There they have old newspaper articles, pictures, and even some memorabilia from years ago. When I was there I picked up a book of the history of The Enchanted Forest, which brought back a lot of memories.
From fairy tales to water slides, Enchanted Forest Water Safari has great impact on the lives of many kids and adults through out the fifty plus years it’s been standing. I’m very happy it kept its classic characters that were there in the beginning and never tore them down. I couldn’t imagine the park without Paul Bunyan, but that will never happen. I’m glad I was able to share some of my memories of this enchanted place and if you’re ever around Old Forge, stop at the park and go on some water rides or just walk through the forest. It’s a great treasure in New York State and in the whole country.