Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Start at Castle: The Making of Enchanted Forest

Scene One: The Beginning of a Dream

When you enter the Enchanted Forest Theme Park, near Salem, Oregon, the first sign you see is “Start at Castle” with an arrow pointing the way. And as you follow the path, a magical journey begins to unfold through handcrafted “scenes” that bring fairy tales and nursery rhymes to life. There’s Peter Piper, Little Miss Muffet, Hansel and Gretel, Mary and her lamb, Alice in Wonderland, the Seven Dwarfs’ home and mine, and the castle with a dungeon and moat.

As you walk through Storybook Lane, you cannot help but be in awe that all Storybook Lane’s fairytale wonders were built by one man in the 1960s and early 1970s – Roger Tofte.

Roger lived in Oregon with his wife and children (Susan, Mary, Ken – and later, Lori). During a road trip to Minnesota, the family stopped at a few roadside attractions and parks to entertain the kids. It was a lightbulb moment for Roger. A grand vision developed in his mind – he would build an attraction in the forest where families could walk through amazing storybook scenes!

His wife, Mavis, was not impressed.

Roger is like a lot of creative visionaries – he has A LOT of ideas. And like most people with a lot of ideas, Roger would go from one pursuit to another, none of them quite sticking.

Mavis had seen it before, with the board games, the paintings on plates, the contraptions, etc. But she said she would support this idea if he kept his full-time job at the Oregon Highway Department as a draftsman.

He agreed.

Roger’s first step was to find forest land that bordered Interstate 5, making it easier to attract passing motorists. A real estate agent helped him find 20 acres of land in Turner, just south of Salem. The land could be his for $4,000; money he did not have. So, he reached an agreement to pay $500 down and $50 a month.

The deal was sealed. That was in 1964. Roger was 34 years old.

For guests to appreciate the surreal beauty of this new park, Roger felt it was vital to protect the trees, bushes, and natural surroundings. After all, they were part of his attraction. As he created pathways, Roger used natural openings in the landscape for his hand-built “scenes.”

The documentary “The Enchanted Forest Story” includes amazing vintage video footage of Roger and his friend Jerry Maness hauling massive stones, from a nearby stone quarry, up and down pathways in a red wagon belonging to one of Roger’s children.

“I look back and that was the hardest way to do that,” Roger tells Theme Park Magazine. “I could have just used concrete blocks you know, but here are these massive stones.”

His father-in-law had a flatbed truck and they’d travel 20 miles to the quarry to get stones that were then taken to the base of the park where the kids wagon was used to transport them – one by one – to places they were building iconic scenes like the Giant Witch. The final load of stones proved too much, breaking the axel on the seemingly invincible red wagon.

“Yeah. It was the hard way,” says Roger.

Roger worked extra jobs to pay for the cement he needed to continue building Storybook Lane. He had training in watch repair, so he would fix a watch and used the money he earned to buy a bag of cement. He then took the bag of cement to “the property” where he mixed it in a wheel barrel and got to work. There was no electricity, no machinery, no heavy equipment. He built everything by hand.

Both Roger and Mavis had to be very resourceful and creative because they had virtually no savings. That resourcefulness and creativity proved invaluable while building the park. This included Roger visiting the sites of homes being demolished to see what he could salvage for repurposing in his creations.

One year of building on weekends and many evenings quickly turned into two years… then four, then six. People were talking about the man on “idiot hill” building things at the “funny farm.” But Roger would not be deterred.

“When I did have people criticize, it spurred me on,” he says.

One reason Roger’s vision took so long to manifest is because he is a stickler for detail. Part of that may come from his artistic background and love for Norman Rockwell paintings. When he was 13, he got a Norman Rockwell book that – in the back – showed all the steps Rockwell took to put a picture together. Roger says that Norman Rockwell paintings were an inspiration to him.

It seems that Roger’s early designs and plans were a source of inspiration – or at least smiles – to the people issuing building permits. As Mavis says in her book, The Enchanted Forest And Its Family, “After all, how many building requests do you suppose they got for Peter Pumpkin Eater, a Witch’s Head, a Dwarfs’ Mine, a Crooked House, or an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?”

But bringing those designs to life was a lot of hard work – especially in a hilly, forested area with no electricity or running water and a desire to preserve the trees and bushes. Facing these challenges were tough, but Roger found motivation in a memory from high school. Roger had won an award for basketball and a local newspaper wrote an article about it, quoting Vince Lombardi:

“A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.”

That saying stuck with him.

Roger was going to make sure this was a win. A big one.

Scene Two: The Opening

Many people believe that the number 7 is an extremely lucky number. It sure was the case for Enchanted Forest. It was in the 7th year that Roger, now 41 years old, assured his wife that he would finally open the park. She asked what needed to be done to make it happen because she and the family were ready to help give that final push to get it opened. He listed off a bunch of things, and the help poured in, even from the mother of Mavis – “Grandma Bjorke.”

As Mavis says in her book, “Grandma Bjorke was handy with a sewing machine and she pitched in to add finishing touches to the Dwarfs’ Cottage, making quilts for the 7 little beds.”

Final preparations included using their ingenuity to address their business needs without spending money they didn’t have. So a cigar box became the cash register, a picnic table became the display area, and large wooden cable spools became dining tables.

This endeavor was built on love, creativity, and resourcefulness. The payoff came on the afternoon of August 8, 1971 when the family felt it was finally good enough to open. It was 2pm.

“After seven years of hard work, against all odds, the dream came true,” says Mavis in her book. “Roger got a large piece of butcher paper and printed the letters OPEN with red paint. We tacked it up outside the entrance building where it could be seen from the road.”

A theme park was born – Enchanted Forest.

After seeing the sign and unique buildings from the freeway, 75 people paid to see Enchanted Forest that very afternoon.

“We were doing a lot of celebrating when we got home that night,” says Roger.

The following Sunday, August 15, The Statesman newspaper in Salem published an article with photos titled, “Childhood Stories Come Alive in ‘Enchanted’ Salem Forest.”

The newspaper hit doorsteps early in the morning and, throughout the day, more than 1,000 people flooded into the park.

Enchanted Forest was here to stay.

And how did the Tofte family celebrate that successful first season? They went to Disneyland, of course.

Scene Three: The Expansion

With the first season behind them, the Tofte family turned their eyes to expansion. And they had help from friends like Jerry Maness and John Davenport. They were “busy on the expansion projects, which included building the Old Woman in the Shoe slide and a Western town and improving the lunch hut,” said Mavis in her book.

When it came to the Western town, Roger wanted it to be unique. This wouldn’t be your typical Western town. It would be Tofteville – an original Western town with oddly shaped buildings, sawdust on the ground, and elements not seen in most Western towns. Nothing was ordinary in Tofteville, including the “Muzium.”

With help from Mavis’ skilled father, Roger was able to open Tofteville in the second season.

Ideas and plans were coming swiftly to Roger. He would sketch out his vision on paper, then he’d make it a reality. There were no models, just drawings and hard work.

“I just jumped from one project to another,” says Roger.

And without YouTube available, most of the skills needed to turn his visions into reality were self-taught. What sort of projects had Roger done prior to starting Enchanted Forest?

“I built a swimming pool and that’s about it,” he says.

After Tofteville, something large and scary was in the works. It would be an incredibly old house… one that was haunted. Roger got a lot of help from his son Ken on the Haunted House project. Ken was becoming more experienced in animatronics and visual effects. His talents were put to good use inside the Enchanted Forest Haunted House. It turned out to be a huge hit among parkgoers.

Roger’s ability to draw something then make it a reality helped him become a master of his trade – bringing dreams to life.

With Storybook Lane, Tofteville, and the Haunted House done, there were still many more projects to go, including one requested by his 17-year-old daughter. Susan wanted a theater so that she could write and direct plays.

The beautiful outdoor Fairweather Theater was born and Susan didn’t let them down. She has written, directed, and even starred in plays every single year since the theater opened.

With so many wonderful attractions, it seemed that something was missing from Enchanted Forest… rides. Roger drew up plans for a bobsled-type ride called “Ice Mountain Bobsled.” The original design envisioned graved propelling cars on a fiberglass track. However, after being opened a year, the entire process – including getting cars back up the mountain – was deemed too slow to get people through fast enough. Additional changes transformed it into what it is today – a fun roller coaster bobsled ride taking guests on a journey through “Ice Mountain,” past waterfalls, and around the forested area that makes Enchanted Forest distinctive.

Since the Ice Mountain Bobsled, Enchanted Forest has added two more “top tier” rides: the Big Timber Log Ride and the trackless Challenge of Mondor adventure.

The Big Timber Log Ride, like all of Roger’s projects, has a twist. Built in 1996, the log flume ride was given a “roller coaster” element to it. At one part of the ride, the log leaves the water, climbs up some roller coaster track, then does a coaster drop before returning to the water. It is classified both as a log flume ride and a water coaster. It is considered the biggest log flume ride in the Pacific Northwest. While the natural forest provides most of the “theme” element, there are some Western facades and a scene room.

Challenge of Mondor opened in 2006. It was installed by ETF Ride Systems, but the imaginative sets, wizards, dragons, characters, and overall concept were all brought to life by Roger and his family. In the ride, guests board a four-person vehicle and use infrared guns to battle against evil creatures.

Roger enjoys updating Challenge of Mondor from time to time.

A Kiddy Rides section was added to the park along with a carousel with several animals original to Enchanted Forest.

On the attractions side, Old Europe Village and the Jolly Roger Fantasy Fountains indoor water show have been a hit among guests for years. You can buy some pizza and popcorn, sit at a table and watch the fountains dance to the original music created by Susan (“Fantasy Fountains” on the “Music from Enchanted Forest” CD).

SCENE Four: It Takes a Family

Roger built most of Enchanted Forest with his own two hands, but he could not run the park by himself. His family stepped up – big time. Through the years each family member has developed different talents to help the park thrive.

For example, Susan, who studied music and theater at the University of Oregon, wrote all the music for Enchanted Forest, including the ride music, fountain music, and scene music. She also wrote the Fairweather Theater productions. Set design? Susan. Costumes? Susan. For the Old European Village, she learned how to make stained glass windows. All this created a more personal and novel experience for guests, but the family saved money on licensing fees and labor, too.

Mavis and Mary have been the key administrators of the park, making sure it stays financially sound and that it recruits enough well-trained staff. In the park’s early days, Mary ran the food stand.

Ken was the original head of ride maintenance. He also loved animatronics, and you can find his work throughout the park.

Now, Roger’s grandkids are involved in park operations. Susan’s son Derek oversees ride maintenance and operations, and Mary’s son Tim works as a supervisor.

When it was pointed out that Roger has such a talented family, he smiled in agreement and said, “Yeah. I’m kind of lucky that way! They all have their niche.”

Susan agrees. “Basically, if there was a niche to be filled, somebody in the family would take on learning that.” She says the family’s creativity made up for a lack of a big budget for the park. They took on the tasks that they couldn’t afford to hire others to do.

“So we just taught ourselves how to do these,” says Susan.

The park became a venue where the family could expand upon their interests and expertise. For example, Susan, director of the theater, arrived late for rehearsal one day to find the cast appearing to just be messing around. When she asked why they weren’t warming up, the cast replied they were warming up – by singing Irish songs.

“I just said, ‘Really? OK, sing for me.’ And they did, and I just went ‘Oh! We have to start a band.’ It was that quick.”

They put together the band that day.

Within a week, they were performing in the streets of Enchanted Forest. People wanted to buy CDs, but the group didn’t even have a name. So Susan came up with some ideas and the group took a vote. Possibly Irish was the winner (YouTube / Spotify). It is one of Susan’s great joys. Now they receive requests to perform at venues outside of Enchanted Forest.

The strength of Enchanted Forest comes from generations of the Tofte family keeping the park alive, growing, and thriving.

Enchanted Forest is a family affair. It always has been and likely always will be.

SCENE Five: Curses and Spells

Theme parks everywhere were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the family-owned and operated Enchanted Forest Theme Park was no exception.

The hit was devastating.

And if that wasn’t enough, a rare ice storm in early 2021 caused trees to fall everywhere at Enchanted Forest and beyond. Trees came down on ride tracks, buildings, pathways… everywhere. The area was hit so hard that the governor of Oregon declared a state of emergency.

It seems that the Wicked Witch had cast a spell over Enchanted Forest that was much too strong for one family to overcome. That’s when a community of people came together – swords and shields in hand – to try and break the spell so that the darkness would dissipate, and Enchanted Forest could prevail.

A GoFundMe campaign to save the park has brought in, to date, $459,181. Even the GoFundMe organization, impressed with Enchanted Forest and its need, donated money!

“We didn’t do just GoFundMe,” says Susan. “We did everything we could think of, auctioning off things, just everything to try and gain more funds.”

Enchanted Forest also started offering customized bricks people could buy to be placed in the park, replacing pathway bricks. At $250 each, more than 500 bricks were sold. Quickly they realized that the bricks meant more to the community than just helping the park. People bought bricks to remember and heal. Because of that, the Buy a Brick program is now a permanent offering by the park.

And then there’s popular Randomland YouTuber Justin Scarred. Justin visited Enchanted Forest about eight months before the pandemic hit the U.S. He was floored by how amazing this family-built and owned theme park was. From his video:

“The Enchanted Forest has completely blown me away. Everything from the rides to the haunted house to the wacky streets of Tofteville, there’s so much charm and character and creativity here. This place is truly a work of art – a masterpiece.”

He made a return trip to Enchanted Forest during the pandemic in November 2020. He was granted permission to tour the grounds of the closed park alone which he filmed for his video, “Alone in a Closed Theme Park – Enchanted Forest in Oregon.” In the video, Justin made an appeal to his viewers to help Enchanted Forest by contributing via the GoFundMe campaign, buying something in the Enchanted Forest store, or bidding on rare park memorabilia at eBid to raise money for its survival.

Then Justin bought a brick.

The Tofte family was very appreciative of everything Justin has done.

When asked if Justin is as enthusiastic and fun off-camera as he is on-camera, the response was “Oh, yes.”

Together, the local community and theme park community have helped lift the evil spell cast on Enchanted Forest and return a magical aura to the area.

As Roger says, “I look forward to picking up from where we left off.”

SCENE Six: 50 Years of Magic

On August 8, 2021, Enchanted Forest will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Roger, who is 91, has no plans to retire. Before his interview, Roger was out patching and repairing. After the interview, he went to pour cement and continue preparations for Enchanted Forest’s reopening in June.

When asked if he felt 91, Roger said, “When I first wake up in the morning, I feel 91.” He laughed. “As the day goes on, I feel more like 80.”

Spending so much time in Enchanted Forest has kept Roger young, and that magical effect trickles down to the family. Susan, now in her 60s, feels like she is in her 30s. On a scale of 1-10 of how fun her life has been, she says without hesitation, “a 10 because my life is filled with constant challenge. It is not boring… I get to combine all these loves.”

When asked what she has learned from her dad, she stated:

“Dad has taught me that when you have a vision, just get started. He would always draw something out, but he wouldn’t spend all this time building all these models and getting it perfect before he started. He had his vision, he knew where he was headed, and he would adjust along the way. So what I learned from him is just get going on it. And if you just keep working at it, it may take a long time, but eventually, you’ll have something really good to show for it. That’s what I learned from him.”

There you have it.

  • In 1964 there was a dream.
  • In 1971, seven years of hard work finally made that dream a reality.
  • In 2021, Enchanted Forest – thanks to a community of amazing people – will be celebrating 50 years of magic.

So when you get a chance to visit, remember to Start at Castle and follow the path. It will lead you down a rabbit hole, through the seven dwarfs’ mine, and on an amazing journey of enchantment and fun. After all, that’s why Enchanted Forest Theme Park was built.

Article Sources:
Personal Interview with Susan Vaslev.
Personal Interview with Roger Tofte.
Mavis Tofte book – The Enchanted Forest and Its Family.
Documentary, “The Enchanted Forest Story.”

Enchanted Forest Fun Facts

  • 7,364,895 people have visited since 1971.
  • One of the talking characters in the Old English Village was modeled after Roger.
  • The very first structure built was the Pumpkin.
  • Several offers to purchase the park have been turned down.
  • Employees are called “Team Members.”
  • Every morning, before the park opens, team members walk the paths to do “scene cleaning,” such as getting rid of spider webs and clearing branches.
  • 20 acres of land was originally purchased for the park. It now owns 32 acres.
  • The park is never overcrowded because of limited parking options.
  • Roger’s favorite area is the one he originally built – Storybook Lane.
  • The Ice Mountain Bobsleds originally had two sets of tracks with slightly different experiences.
  • Disney once sent four Walt Disney Imagineering engineers to analyze the trackless Challenge of Mondor ride.
  • The dancing Fantasy Fountains were purchased by Roger from an IAAPA show.
  • When opened in 1971, admission was $1 for adults and 50 cents for children. Coincidently, this was the same price Walt Disney charged guests when he opened Disneyland in 1955.

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Mary
Mary
2 months ago

If you come to Oregon, you have to visit Enchanted Forest. Even grownups slide down the “woman who lived in shoe” house, crawl through the tunnels, and flinch at walking on the witch’s tongue.

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