Enchanting tale: Storybook forest replanted on farm

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A long time ago, in a land not too far away, was a theme park called the Enchanted Forest where parents and children could interact with their favorite fairy-tale characters and, in some cases, become part of the story themselves.

Home to many Disney and Mother Goose characters, the park on Route 40 in Ellicott City, Md., opened its castle doors in 1955 and became a childhood institution and local landmark. Cinderella would dash up to children and ask them if they had seen her slipper. There were rides, some with cars shaped like giant teacups. Families could walk inside many of the storybook buildings set in the woods and see dioramas of their favorite stories.

The Enchanted Forest went through a few owners, closing in the 1980s, reopening and finally closing for good in the early 1990s. Despite efforts from preservationists, the storybook dream had ended.

The castle facade and a large statue of Old King Cole are still there on Route 40, at the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, home to Safeway, Petco and other stores.

But wipe your eyes, dear children, because this story has a happy ending. Many of the figures and buildings were saved and reside at Clark’s Elioak Farm on Route 108 in Ellicott City.

“These pieces were so memorable to children because of the attention to detail,” says Martha Clark, owner of Clark’s Elioak Farm, which also houses a petting farm. “They’re done just like in the storybooks. It’s amazing.”

Ms. Clark says her family has been farming on Howard County land since 1797, on this particular site on Route 108 since 1928, and the family still raises sheep, cattle and crops there. In fact, if you come in July and August, you can stop at the vegetable stand farther down the road and buy some produce.

The petting farm was opened in 2002, but the first Enchanted Forest piece — a large Cinderella Pumpkin Coach — arrived in the fall of 2004 for the farm’s pumpkin patch, Ms. Clark says.

“Everyone was so pleased to see it again,” she says. “They were taking photographs next to it.”

Kimco Realty Co., the most recent owner of the Enchanted Forest Shopping Center, told Ms. Clark she could have the rest of the Enchanted Forest structures — but only if she took all of them.

From the parking lot at Clark’s Elioak Farm, you can see a 23-foot-high periwinkle-colored shoe under repair, home to the Old Woman who Lived in the Shoe, and vast acres of farmland behind it. There are slides shaped like mice and cheese. A life-size Papa Bear statue welcomes visitors. Several trees, surprisingly, have faces with their tongues sticking out.

Beyond the entrance is a petting farm filled with goats, ducks, chickens, an emu, piglets, ponies, turkeys, donkeys and more. Handy coin-dispensed kibbles for the animals and hand-washing stations are available.

Jeff Salava of Catonsville, Md., watched his 2-year-old daughter, Tressa, move from one animal pen to the next during a recent visit.

“Her favorite is riding the horse, but she likes to pet the other animals first,” he said.

Sitting court in the middle of the petting farm is a huge Mother Goose and a very large chocolate-colored egg with a sign that states: “The Easter Bunny’s House.” Nearby are the Three Little Pigs’ houses. Although pony rides and hayrides are offered, this clearly isn’t your typical petting farm.

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