Ghost Town works out the kinks

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Aug 07, 2013
Photo by: Jessi Stone The can can girls perform for an audience at the saloon in Ghost Town.

Alaska Presley, owner of Ghost Town in the Sky in Maggie Valley, is determined to see her goal of restoring the mountain through to fruition and refuses to let controversies stand in her way.

She said she would keep pushing forward with her dreams for Ghost Town because “There’s too many good things going on here and too many people who want it to survive.”

Making progress

She’s moving ahead in making the amusement park in the sky what it once was and then some, but she has had to deal with unexpected obstacles as they come. Presley, who bought Ghost Town at auction in 2012, wanted to have the park open by Memorial Day, but state certifications took longer than expected and kept the park closed until Fourth of July. But even in scattered storms and rain, people were lining up for the chairlift on the first day.

Presley had to embark on a major cleanup effort after she purchased the 50-year old park. All new plumbing had to be put in and a lot of electrical work had to be done. An unexpected hurdle was a North Carolina Department of Labor requirement to build a new evacuation route underneath the chairlift that snakes a mile up Buck Mountain.

Building a road on that kind of incline was an expensive feat — but it got done. The only problem was the $100,000 route disturbed more land than anticipated, and Ghost Town was issued a violation from the Haywood County Erosion and Sedimentation Department.

Marc Pruett, erosion and sedimentation control director, found the route disturbed about 2.5 acres of land during an inspection. An engineered plan must be submitted to the county if a project disturbs a half-acre or more.

Ghost Town management was given a July 24 deadline to submit an engineered erosion plan for the route. While Pruett did not have the complete plan in hand by the deadline day, he said he was in contact with Presley and her lawyer, Bob Long, who assured him that the plan was on the way.

“Since they are continuing to stabilize what they’ve done, I’m not totally uncomfortable with it. It’s a fairly common thing people get into and it takes a little more time to get it done,” Pruett said.

Presley said on Thursday that the plan had been submitted to the county and she didn’t foresee any further environmental problems.

Pruett said a fine amount for the violation wouldn’t be pegged until the disturbed area in the final plan was reviewed. But in the meantime, his department hasn’t issued any further violations.

“I have a good feeling we will get what we need soon — just a little slower than I’d like,” he said.


Rich Cove Road

Previous Ghost Town owners had a problem in 2010 when a landslide started on their property and crossed Rich Cove Road in three places. The slide impacted about a dozen homeowners below who were not compensated for their losses. The section of earth moved again in January amid heavy rains and snowfall that saturated the ground.

Luckily, a sediment pond constructed after the last slide caught the material and prevented major damage. But the area is still a concern due to record rainfall this year. The retention pond is now full of sediment and needs to be emptied out. Presley said she wasn't aware of any problems with the road or pond.

Tim Barth, town manager of Maggie Valley, said the town does not have the responsibility of doing that since the property belongs to Ghost Town and is not in the town’s city limits.

He said representatives with the Natural Resources Conservation Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture came out two weeks ago to inspect the area.

“They are supposed to send a report to say whether it is eligible for federal assistance funds or not,” Barth said.

If funds aren’t available to empty the pond, Ghost Town may have to pay for it. Federal and state funding mostly covered the $1.4 million in repairs to the road and mountain after the 2010 landslide.

Water on the mountain

Presley said she ordered new motors and water pumps that should be arriving any day to pump water up the mountain. She also installed new water tanks for storage. Until then, Ghost Town is relying on a well.

Neil Carpenter, Maggie Valley Sanitary District manager, said the district will provide Ghost Town with water pumped up the mountain, a plan that was engineered and then permitted through the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

"We're going to provide them with a master water meter and they're going to pump it to the top of the mountain," he said.


As for her accomplishments, Presley has managed to get the chairlift back in operation, several of the kiddie rides passed inspection and the Western Town portion of Ghost Town is alive and well with gun fights, saloon dancers and retail shops.

Her next goal is to purchase enclosed gondolas to give guests an alternative to riding the chairlift. The gondola would take about eight passengers at a time up the mountain adjacent to the chairlift but would much closer to the ground. Ghost Town also has two buses to take guests to the top if the chairlift  ride, which takes about 20 minutes, is a little intimidating for them. While it would be a $4 million investment, Presley feels it would be money well spent.

“I think that would really open up the park for success,” she said.

She still has her eye on opening Inspiration Mountain in the future.  Inspiration Mountain would be inspired by Presley’s visits to Jerusalem — a park similar to Holy Land in Orlando but more authentic, she said. It will be set on the third level of the mountain where the current music hall is located. She has a great vision of setting up the different phases of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Local pastors, including Bobby Rogers with Dellwood Baptist Church, will begin fundraising efforts soon.

“I just want to get everything fixed and want some positive thinking,” Presley said. “And I think I’ve got god’s help.”

Presley has ambitious plans for the mountain, but she said she isn’t willing to accumulate debt to get it all done quickly. She wants to go at a reasonable pace with her own money. A self-described loner, she has put all her own money into Ghost Town with no expectation of recouping any of it. But her motivation is helping recover the local economy and putting people back to work.

The amusement park is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through Labor Day.