Remembering attractions that no longer exist in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Maggie Valley
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, with an estimated 12.5 million visitors annually. So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs come to the area with high hopes of building the next big attraction to entice visitors on their way to the mountains. But around these parts, attractions can come and go in the blink of an eye. Let’s look back to some of the most popular lost attractions of the Smokies:
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For about three decades, Ogle’s Waterpark was the summer staple of the Smokies. It rested along the main strip of the Parkway, separated from the busy road by only a chain-link fence and some concrete. During its peak, Ogle’s Waterpark was the largest waterpark in the area with six giant water slides, a wave pool, a kid’s play area and snack stations throughout the park. It had fully enclosed tunnel slides that were revolutionary for their time. It was the birthplace of seasonal romance and pushing the limits of how much heat you could take before dipping into the cool, chemical waters.
However, in 2002, the increasingly outdated Ogles Waterpark closed for good, and the land was demolished to make way for Waldens Landing in 2003. Today, Dollywood’s Splash Country and Soaky Mountain Waterpark dominate the waterpark scene. Paula Deen’s Lumberjack Feud now sits where Ogle’s used to be.
You might think it is odd that East Tennessee would be home to a Hawaiian-themed dolphin attraction. And you’d also be right. But then again, if you drive down the main Pigeon Forge strip today, you’d see a giant Titanic replica, King Kong climbing the Empire State Building, and buildings that appear to have been ripped up from the ground and dropped upside-down – so who are we to judge? Porpoise Island had dolphin shows, sea lions, an exotic deer ranch and a Bird Vaudeville Theatre. Performers traveled in from Hawaii, and the porpoises came from Mississippi. They also brought in exotic deer from “all over the world.” It was open from 1972 through 1984 in the heart of Pigeon Forge.
Porpoise Island likely fell victim to its insanely expensive upkeep. For instance, each season the Polynesian performers had to be housed. Additionally, the animals – along with their trainers and caregivers – had to be brought in from warmer climates. Porpoise Island also only operated for about three months out of the year, making it a logistical nightmare. The Island in Pigeon Forge now sits in its place.
Magic World was a relic of its own time, nestled between a car museum and the Twin Water Ski-Doo. If you never had the chance to see it, imagine being on the set of a late 50s sci-fi movie. It had a random assortment of features, including magic shows by Merlin the Magician, Dinosaur Valley, a 100-foot volcano, a haunted castle and a UFO that played videos inside the spaceship. For children of the 70s and 80s, Magic World was surely a place of wonder. But it also had some features that could be more problematic by today’s standards. For example, it featured a Confederate Critter Show, which had Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics singing mountain ballads. Magic World was open from 1971 to 1996.
Magic World reportedly met its demise over a dispute about the cost of land. Today, a handful of scenes remain from Magic World that have been integrated into the mini-golf course at Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure Golf.
After 26 years of running a water circus in Wisconsin Dells, Tommy Bartlett set his sights on Pigeon Forge for a second location, but this act would be short-lived. The company purchased 110 acres of farmland and built a 20-foot dam that would hold 8.5 million gallons of water to form the man-made lake. The show ran for four years. Though the stint was brief, the show has been fondly remembered by those lucky enough to catch it. The water circus featured a range of acts, including a water-skiing clown named Aqua, trapeze acts from helicopters and even a contortionist. Water skiers from all over the country would come to perform at the water circus in Pigeon Forge. Reportedly, Tommy Bartlett directed and oversaw the acts himself.
In 1993, Fun Mountain, located at the entrance of the strip in Gatlinburg, was set to open and lay its claim to the area amusement park business. Unfortunately, this ill-fated theme park closed its doors just seven short years later in 2000. We are still unsure of why Fun Mountain failed where other, similar attractions (like Anakeesta) succeeded. Some say it was poor marketing (I don’t personally remember seeing a single ad for Fun Mountain), and others say it was a matter of finances or even poor planning. Regardless, it’s still a fun one to remember as you can still spot remnants of this defunct attraction throughout downtown Gatlinburg.
This ghost story starts in the bright and optimistic sunshine of opportunity and capitalism. Virginia businessman R.B. Coburn originally brought the vision to Maggie Valley for an amusement park themed after the Wild West. Ghost Town in the Sky had stores, a saloon and a church. Tourists came from all over to ride the rides and see the shows, which included shootouts in the streets, can-can dancers and mountain music. Ghost Town in the Sky opened in 1961 and quickly became one of the premier attractions in North Carolina. The park eventually added a two-seat chair lift, which was the second-longest in the U.S. at the time.
By the late 80s, there was a serious decline in interest for the Wild West. Several attempts were made to spice things up. They reintroduced the Red Devil Roller Coaster, but all attempts fell short. By the late 90s, many of the rides were either frequently shut down or completely closed. Attendance fell off, and money to maintain the park also dried up. It finally closed around 2002. Ownership exchanged hands a few times, and it was briefly resurrected in 2007. About $49 million was invested in the park. However, the Great Recession of the late 2000s proved to be too much to overcome. The park has attempted comebacks over the years, however, none came to fruition.
Do you remember any of these old attractions? Are there any that we missed? If so, let us know in the comments.