The witch’s head at Enchanted Forest on Tuesday, October 27. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Last summer, where there were once teenaged screams at the height of rollercoasters and toddler giggles on wooded paths, there was silence as Enchanted Forest – the theme park nestled between Salem and Albany – struggled to keep its gates open in the face of Covid.
This year, the noise has returned.
“It’s going great,” said Susan Vaslev who co-manages the park with her sister Mary as part of the Tofte family that founded the park in 1971. “We had a little boy here, six years old, the other day and his mother said he’s been inside the entire pandemic. He had fear of everything but he found his bravery here. We’ve seen a lot of that.”
The kids and families are slowly returning, Vaslev said. The crowds usually come flooding in the weekend after the Fourth of July but last year, due to Covid and the state restrictions regarding crowd sizes and masks that came with it, the crowds were thinned.
It meant the 51-year-old park that had been the backdrop of family reunions and memories for generations, had to turn to the community or face closure.
“We had 10,000 people help us in some way,” said Vaslev.
People gave to the park’s GoFundMe – which was shut down as soon as the family that owns the park realized it could stay open – and bid on objects from the park.
They also bought a brick as part of a fundraising campaign. Enchanted Forest sold bricks for birthdays, anniversaries and engagements.
“There were sad ones too,” Vaslev said. “ A father lost his eight-year-old son and had been looking for a place to memorialize him. They had happy memories here and so they bought a brick.”
That program, she said, will remain even as the park transitions away from its fundraising stage.
Enchanted Forest, Vaslev said, saw a more typical crowd return last weekend and is approaching what it believes are normal numbers for the season. So far this year, the park has seen 63,939 guests, a number difficult to compare to last year when the park was closed for half of its typical season, opening on June 5.
Staffing the park though, is still a struggle.
“It used to be that there were 600 applications piled there waiting for an interview,” Vaslev said. Now, applicants are almost guaranteed an interview.
“You hear it from all types of employment,” Vaslev said. “People are having trouble getting applicants.”
Even with staffing shortages, the park has returned to its seven day a week schedule, up from five days a week at the tail end of last year’s season.
“We’re not back up to 100%,” Vaslev said, “but it’s coming and I’m not complaining.”
After nearly losing the family business, Vaslev said the Enchanted Forest crew is just happy to still be here.
“This year is a joy,” she said. “We are so grateful to the people who got us through that because not all businesses were that lucky.”
Contact reporter Caitlyn May at [email protected].
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