Local theorizes what happened to Fun Mountain in Gatlinburg TN
In 1993, Dollywood was still in its first decade of growing out of its Silver Dollar City phase. Other Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge attractions were morphing with the dawn of the internet age. And Fun Mountain, located at the entrance to the strip in Gatlinburg, tried to lay its claim to the amusement park business revenue in town.
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The key to success in Sevier County is certainly well-mapped, in theory. Put together a place with go-karts, bumper cars, mini-golf and some arcade games and watch the money flow down the mountain like a stream. The future must have looked so bright and promising for Reagan Resorts, the owners of Fun Mountain, in the heady days of 1993.
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What happened to Fun Mountain in Gatlinburg?
Today, all that remains of Fun Mountain is dreams and an empty, rusting lot. It surely wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Twilight Zone. Some seven years after its opening, the rides were auctioned off, piece by piece, to collectors. All that’s left is the rusting chair lift, a handful of storage buildings and a concrete pad that will confound archaeologists in 1,500 years much like Stonehenge. So what went wrong for Fun Mountain? Here are my theories on why it failed:
First of all, Fun Mountain organizers tore down the historic Mountain View Hotel. The hotel was founded in the 1920s and was used by a wealthy sawmill owner to house his employees. In Gatlinburg, tearing down a historic 3-story, 100-room hotel with nearly 70 years of history to make room for the Do-Se-Do Scrambler ride is the cosmic equivalent of building a modern housing development on a massive, ancient Native American graveyard.
The Fun Mountain website is preserved for posterity on the internet archive way back machine. The site is an interesting relic of ancient web design. And it’s also a window into how the marketing department may have fallen down on the job. First, excessive exclamation point usage is a sign of someone who thinks they’re good at marketing but are not. If you need to tell people to get excited with punctuation, your sentence isn’t doing what you think it is. Secondly, whoever was in charge of naming the rides lacked a little of the poet’s soul. I would have been embarrassed as a teen to utter out loud, much less ride, the hyphen-friendly Go-Get-Em-Go-Carts, the Bump-Em Bumper Boats or the aforementioned Do-Se-Do Scrambler Ride.
From a personal standpoint, I was 17 years old in the summer of 1993. I lived 40 minutes away from Fun Mountain and was preparing for my life at the University of Tennessee. As a teen to young adult, I was squarely in the target demographic for the entirety of Fun Mountain’s run. Yet, I can’t remember a radio, TV or print ad for Fun Mountain.
3. Bad timing
Fun Mountain may have been the right idea at the wrong time. We were the disaffected Gen X. For instance, we wanted nothing to do with cheesy 80s-era rides or animatronics stolen from a defunct Showbiz Pizza. The Bear Jam Bumper Cars was in no way something that could be cool.
4. Parking and location
Parking and location were an issue, even though you’d think the spot at the start of the strip would have been ideal. A parking lot essentially took its place, which is telling. For instance, Anakeesta solved the parking dilemma by building parking at the strip and giving transportation to the park set back in the mountains. Therefore, if Fun Mountain had stumbled across that model 30 years earlier, it would have been helpful to their success.
5. Poor finances
Finally, lack of finances is likely closest to the truth. Specifically, many small businesses fail as a result of being undercapitalized. Fun Mountain launched with many poorly named stuff and relied on word of mouth to survive. Likely, they didn’t allow enough funds for marketing and didn’t account for the massive growth at Dollywood, which ate up market share like Pac-Man swallowed yellowed pellets. They needed to be able to survive longer and dig in deeper. On paper, Fun Mountain should have worked. Go-karts, bumper cars and boats? Mini-golf? Carnival rides and arcade games? All for one reasonable price? If that place was open today, we’d take the kids a couple of times a year. Instead, it’s a dusty, haunted place.
Where is the abandoned theme park in Gatlinburg?
The remains of the old, abandoned park are visible from a public parking lot in Gatlinburg. We strongly encourage our readers to not venture too far and respect the “no trespassing” signs. Stay in the general parking lot area.
Do you remember Fun Mountain? Let me know in the comments.