In a wooded patch of land somewhere between Salem and Albany, there are screams.
They start every year around March and grow louder and louder, crescendoing with the high temperatures of July and August before they float back down into silence as the fog and frost of winter begin to cover the mid-valley.
It’s the sound of toddlers riding the brightly colored train for the first time, teens tossing their hands into the air at the height of a rollercoaster and families scurrying to the same sacred spot along the tree-covered path to take the same photo they’ve been taking since the kids were little to mark the annual trip to the Enchanted Forest.
For nearly 50 years, the amusement park just off Interstate 5 near the Turner exit has served as a family tradition and community landmark. But on March 19, when the gates opened for the season, silence fell over the forest.
“COVID-19 hit,” said Susan Vaslev, a member of the family that owns the park and who helps manage it. “When we could finally open in June, we got word our capacity limit was going to be 250, including staff.”
Normally, thousands of people can legally fill the park, providing admission revenue and other funds.
But eight months in, COVID-19 has swallowed Enchanted Forest’s usual season, and unless it gets a cash infusion, the park won’t see its 50th anniversary next year.
On Tuesday, after exhausting all available avenues of federal support through the Payroll Protection Program and other programs for businesses impacted by COVID-19, the family resorted to its last option before seeking a bank loan: asking the community for help.
A GoFundMe account has been set up asking for $500,000 — the amount Vaslev said is the bare minimum to get the park through to its next opening day in March 2021.
“That’s if nothing goes wrong,” she said, noting that additional funds would be needed if ride inspections turn up the need for repairs. “It’s expensive to run an amusement park; we have to do maintenance.”
After just two days, the campaign has already raised $182,170.
But that still leaves a long way to go. To generate more operating cash, the family has started selling memorabilia from the park, including old signs, and they’re in talks about setting up a sponsorship program that would enable people to buy bricks that would be used to pave the walkways through the park.
“We have to get creative,” Vaslev said. “After this, it’s bank loans. We’ve taken bank loans out before for projects, but then the project is done and you can recoup the money by selling more tickets. This is taking loans out and not having a way to continue bringing in revenue to pay it.”
The park, Vaslev said, normally operates in the black. But this year, it’s had to lay off employees, and the usual 200 seasonal workers brought on during the summer dwindled down to 70.
“We’re in debt,” she said. “We had no debt and now it’s accumulating really fast because we have no income until we open again and we, a gut feeling, don’t think we’ll be back to normal without COVID by March. Now property taxes are due.”
When the park does reopen in March, more bills will pile up and, depending on COVID-19 restrictions, revenues still might not be covering expenses.
So the family is hoping the community will chip in, either by donating to the GoFundMe campaign or ordering gift cards and then tearing them up.
“I checked (the GoFundMe account) and it was over $100,000,” Vaslev said. “It blows my mind. We can’t believe it. There were 3,000 people who donated, and some people were donating $5. That’s money those people might not have, but they wanted to help, and the fact that the community has rallied around us is just incredible. If we make it through this, the community will be the reason.”
To donate, visit the Enchanted Forest Facebook page for a link to the GoFundMe campaign.
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