You want a metaphor for the new millennium? It was the year 2000, and Fun died in the Smoky Mountains.
But before we get to all that, let’s take a few steps back.
The year is 1993, Dollywood is still in its first decade of growing out of its Silver Dollar City phase.
Other Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge attractions are morphing – or failing to – with the dawn of the internet age.
And Fun Mountain, located at the entrance to the strip in Gatlinburg, is set to open and lay its claim to the amusement park business revenue in town.
The key to success in Sevier County is fairly 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.
The pieces were all there.
Entertainment. Food. Carnival rides. Games.
What happened to Fun Mountain in Gatlinburg?
All that remains of Fun Mountain is dreams and an empty, rusting lot that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Twilight Zone.
Eventually, the rides were auctioned off, piece-by-piece, to collectors.
All that’s left today 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.
Although I do not know for sure, I can hazard a few guesses on what went wrong.
First of all, Fun Mountain organizers tore down the historic Mountain View Hotel. The hotel was founded in the 1920s, 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.
Without a doubt, the Reagan Resort brass are lucky that the spirits didn’t suck a bunch of flannel-wearing teens into the giant screen of the VR Voyager ride and possess the animatronics while singing a rousing chorus of “God is in his Holy Temple.”
The Fun Mountain website is preserved for posterity on the internet archive wayback 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. In fact, it appears the names are a bit on the nose.
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.
Maybe Fun Mountain would still be open today if only someone had stood up in the board meeting and said, “Hey guys, maybe we’re overthinking this. How about we call them the go-karts, bumper boats and the scrambler?”
I was 17 years old in the summer of 1993. I lived 40 minutes away 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.
I remember the ads for Maggie Valley. People I knew talked about going to Ober. I remember the buzz for Dollywood. However, I have no memory of ads for Fun Mountain.
3. Bad timing
Fun Mountain may have been the right idea at the wrong time.
We were the disaffected Gen X. 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. Of course, we didn’t want “colorful amusements and entertaining shows.”
Ask the 47-year-old me if I want to ride Rickey’s Rocket and I might raise an eyebrow as a saucy salute to my former self, able to make the joke without making it.
Ask that question to the 18-year-old me and prepare for 45 minutes of inappropriate humor. Follow that by telling me you’re riding the Ridge Swinger or the Bear Jam and you might as well call it a night, I’m going full Beavis & Butthead and never looking back.
Certainly, I’m not proud of the way I am, or the way I was, but that’s the way they made us.
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 a lot of 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.
With this in mind, were it up to me, I’d get a spiritual medium with a heavy, breathy New Orleans accent and giant glasses to come burn some sage on the location before giving it a go.
“This house … is clean.”
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 us know in the comments.
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