Enchanted Forest Works to Recover from COVID & Ice

A devastating ice storm swept through much of the Willamette Valley the night of Friday, February 12. The area around Salem was hit particularly hard – hundreds of thousands of people were without power, and trees that had stood tall for decades were uprooted –crashing into houses and cars. Not many were spared the damage, not even Oregon’s beloved Enchanted Forest.  

It was the morning of February 13 when Enchanted Forest Co-Manager Susan Vaslev’s phone rang, notifying her that the sprinkler system had gone off at the Challenge of Mondor ride and that the fire department was already on their way. It wasn’t unexpected – she knew there was an ice storm going on the night before – but that didn’t keep her from worrying.   

“If the trees are going to fall, there is no way to keep them from falling,” Vaslev recalled in an interview with The Oregonian.   

A member of the fire department sent Vaslev photos of the current state of the park when they arrived at the scene. Large portions were completely blocked off by fallen trees and debris, so most of the damage was still unknown.

A Quick Decision  

Vaslev, having previous experience dealing with a similar storm over a decade before, knew she had to act quickly. She immediately texted several companies that were needed to clear the area and repair any damage, including Pfiefer Roofing and Dalke Construction, among others.  

She doubts that crews would have time to work on Enchanted Forest so quickly if she had hesitated. “I’ve learned that you do have to move very fast in things like this because everybody’s in the same situation,” she said. “Everybody has damage, even though I think ours was some of the worst.”  

Vaslev’s son was the first of the family to see the park in person. He called to say it was very bad and to express concern about his mother being in danger. Therefore, it wasn’t until Sunday that Vaslev was able to drive to the park herself to see the full extent of the damage.  

Some Damage Beyond Repair 

Areas of the fence were down, the kiddy train was damaged beyond repair, the awning over the theater seating was crushed, and several roofs were damaged and left fallen concrete below. Luckily, the iconic Witch’s Head and Humpty Dumpty remained unscathed.

“I felt overwhelmingly tired because we’ve just had to deal with so much,” said Vaslev on seeing the damage. “Losing family in the fire, the whole COVID thing…, and this was just that feeling of ‘Oh man, am I up for another round of this?'”  

Add to all of that, Vaslev’s father, Roger Tofte – the man who designed and built the park by hand in the late 1960s, was upset. At 91 years old, he felt discouraged about the prospect of the park being able to reopen in the summer.

Getting Some Help  

Despite Tofte’s prediction, Vaslev’s despair was short-lived as she quickly got to work.   

“We’ve been through so many things that [we] do have the experience of just not giving up,” she said.  

Due to COVID-19 closures and government-imposed restrictions, the once-thriving family business was now in debt. Determined to make it to their 50th anniversary in August, the family decided to ask for help in October of 2020. Vaslev then organized a GoFundMe to help the struggling theme park.   

“The response was incredible,” said Vaslev. Just three days after posting the GoFundMe, the family-owned business had already received over $200,000 in donations from more than 4,000 people. Now, the GoFundMe is just over of $450,000 – roughly $40,000 of which was donated immediately after the ice storm.   

Longtime attendee of Enchanted Forest and student at the University of Oregon, Nathaniel Leof, is among the many people rooting for Enchanted Forest’s success.   

“My mom’s side of the family, about like, 20 people, would go together every summer,” said Leof. “It would honestly feel like losing an important piece of my childhood if Enchanted Forest [were] to close.”  

Due to the overwhelming success of the GoFundMe, Enchanted Forest had been able to remain up-to-date on their insurance.   

Vaslev said there are many loopholes and their insurance won’t cover a lot of the damage caused by the ice storm. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there is generally no coverage for tree and debris removal if the tree did not fall directly on an insured building. But having that financial support was necessary to keep the park in business.   

Vaslev estimated that the total costs of the repairs could easily reach over half a million dollars – compared to the $60,000 worth of damage from the ice storm a decade ago.  

Another Source of Funds 

To raise additional funds to cover the costs of COVID and the ice storm damage, the Enchanted Forest family decided to sell memorabilia such as postcards from 1973 and Tofte’s original artwork and building plans. They also began a Buy-a-Brick program for families to commemorate their memories of the park.

“We’ll just have to keep getting creative, thinking of more ways to make it through – and I’m determined we’ll get through,” said Vaslev.  

Where Things Are Today  

Currently, most of the debris has been picked up, but there are still minor repairs to be made in addition to regular park maintenance. Vaslev spends almost every day at the park, communicating with staff and making sure things run smoothly as they prepare for the upcoming season.  

Vaslev is hopeful that Enchanted Forest will make a swift recovery once COVID restrictions are lifted and they’re able to make a steady income.   

“You know,” she said, “the park definitely will have some bare patches in it where trees and foliage need to grow, so that will affect us.”  

Enchanted Forest hopes to open sometime in April, although the exact date is still unclear. With an order put in for a new kiddy train and vaccine rollouts going strong, the future looks promising.  

“Thank you so much for all your offers of help and your kind thoughts,” wrote Vaslev in a Facebook post. “We are still fighting because of you.”  

By Momoko Baker 

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