Summertime is for road trips. Atlas Obscura and All Things Considered are traveling up the West Coast, from California to Washington, in search of “hidden wonders” — unique but overlooked people and places.
Driving on Interstate 5 in Turner, Ore. — about an hour south of Portland — it’s hard to miss the towering road sign, topped by a waving Humpty Dumpty: “Enchanted Forest Theme Park. Next Exit.”
The park’s attractions fill the hillside just off the highway — but it wouldn’t exist without the dedication of one man.
Roger Tofte grew up wanting to be an illustrator in the mold of Norman Rockwell. Instead, he found himself working as a draftsman for the Oregon highway department.
It was during a family road trip with his wife and kids in 1963 when inspiration struck. Tofte remembers seeing roadside amusement parks that were “just plywood and there wasn’t much to them so I kinda started dreaming up what I’d like to do.”
Tofte returned home, made a $500 down payment on 20 acres of wooded hillside, and started building, sometimes one cement bag at a time.
For nearly a decade, Tofte worked in isolation, sculpting figures from fairy tales and nursery rhymes: Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood. He built each one by hand.
The Enchanted Forest finally opened in 1971. Tofte says 75 people visited the first day; 1,000 came the next Sunday. A couple of years later, Tofte quit his day job to focus full time on the park.
These days, more than 100,000 people visit the Enchanted Forest each year, according to the Tofte family. It’s grown to include a roller coaster, a log ride and a comedy theater troupe. Three generations of the family now help keep the park thriving.
“It’s really rewarding,” says the 88-year-old Tofte, “especially seeing all these families come in, and so many of ’em will stop me and thank me for doing this.”
The key to realizing your dreams, he says, is follow-through.
“It’s not something that you just sit around and hope it’s going to come true,” he says. “It takes a lot of sacrifice. It takes a lot work and effort.”