Enchanted Forest, Oregon’s Brilliantly Surreal Amusement Park, Turns 45

The family-run Willamette Valley icon lives on as a fortress of yesteryear fun.

By Eden Dawn July 12, 2016 Published in the August 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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The spell takes effect as soon as the soft plinking of harpsichord music drifts into your ears. A few steps onto the wooded trail, you find her, for the first time or the hundredth time: Little Miss Muffet, perched upon her tuffet, a spider still beside her. Later, down in Seven Dwarves Mine, you breathe in a musty, memory-triggering smell of the glowing, black-lit waterfalls. In the Haunted House, those creepy skeletons are still cackling. You hope they never stop.

Enchanted Forest’s red and yellow turrets poke out of a thick patch of trees off I-5’s exit 248, 55 miles south of downtown Portland, promising a fortress of yesteryear fun. The amusement park, which marks its 45th anniversary this summer, has long been a staple of Willamette Valley childhood. It provides the first job for many a Salem teen—the lucky ones hawking tickets outdoors, the less lucky shoveling fries in the summertime heat. The family-run park still captivates young minds, hosting 2,000 birthday parties, 100 field trips, and 10,000 picnics every year—not to mention grown-up reporters affecting nonchalance.

“I think it’s the trees,” says owner Roger Tofte of the park’s longevity. “They create a whole atmosphere.”

In 1964, less than a decade after Disneyland opened, Tofte purchased the 20 shady acres for a mere $4,000 and set to work sculpting his cement Storybook Trail—complete with a colorful Cinderella Castle, happy Humpty Dumpty up on his wall, and an infamous Rabbit Hole, where kiddos flourish or flail in the darkness. He worked every night and weekend, while repairing watches by day. It took seven years of lugging cement bags up the hill with his wife, Mavis, and four kids. On August 8, 1971, the Toftes posted a simple butcher-paper OPEN sign out front.

“It’s a lot of upkeep,” the 86-year-old patriarch says. “It takes us all winter to get everything ready each year.”

His family runs a tight ship. On any given day, Tofte might be weeding the entrance or zooming around on his motorized scooter trimming the forested trails into the park’s signature tunnel shape. Daughter Susan directs the daily comedy theater shows; son Ken cooks up new animatronic characters; and one of his seven grandchildren (three work at the park) maintains Ice Mountain’s Bobsled cars.

Time seems to have little power here. Each year everything gets a fresh coat of paint; broken things are fixed immediately; garbage cans are emptied multiple times a day.

The family continues to add to the park, filling the woodland acres with borderline modern attractions like a 40-foot flume-ride drop and kid-size Ferris wheel—additions, never subtractions.

“We only upgrade,” Tofte says. “Hopefully the generations coming up will have as much an interest as my kids did.” He surveys his kingdom, and adds: “And Mavis wasn’t even in favor of us getting the land.”

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