Ever since my life-changing visit to the Magic Forest in Lake George, NY I have been obsessed with storybook parks. At one time they were popular attractions all over the country, but they're definitely past their prime and just a fraction still remain in operation. Kids today want fast rides and flashy screens, not big shoes and the three little pigs.
Luckily, there are people like the owners of Clark's Elioak Farm, a 219-year-old farm in Ellicott City, Maryland. The nearby Enchanted Forest opened in 1955, and closed in the '90s. Over the years, the Clark family has purchased many of the pieces and installed them on their farm. I'm not sure how many pieces are missing from the original Forest (if any), but it certainly feels as if the farm is now more Enchanted Forest than actual farm—which is exactly what I was hoping to find.
I can't articulate exactly why these places hold such appeal for me—I don't recall ever visiting one as an actual kid—but I love any place that feels untouched by the passage of time. Sure, technology is great, but so is artistry and these figures and structures have a tangible, handmade, interactive quality that you just can't get from a screen. My very favorites were the Old Woman's Shoe (aka my future), Willie the Whale (my second Willy!) and Little Toot—because everything is better with face.
Almost all of the figures and structures are in excellent shape, and have been repaired, refurbished and repainted since landing at the farm. Despite having some repeat figures and themes, Clark's feels different than the Magic Forest—less creepy and probably closer to how these parks felt in their glory days. My mom pointed out the incongruity of my distaste for children and my love of all things child-like—aka, my life struggle—but we visited on a Thursday afternoon and the farm was (blissfully) deserted.
There is an actual "Enchanted Forest" section in the farm, a wooded maze that takes you past characters and scenes from notable fairy tales. I wonder if kids today (spoken like the 80-year-old woman I am) even recognize any of these stories, like The Tortoise and the Hare or Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater. I'm still wondering about the large sombrero, the lone dinosaur and the alien/elf named Howie (??), but in my experience, things don't need to make complete sense to still be thoroughly enjoyed.
Clark's Elioak Farm
10500 Clarksville Pike
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Open April 1-November 5
Tues-Fri: 10am-5pm, Sat-Sun: 10am-5:30pm