How A Labor Of Love Grew Into An 'Enchanted Forest' In Oregon A family road trip in 1963 inspired Roger Tofte to build a fairy tale theme park. At first, he made everything on his own, by hand. Now, more than 100,000 people a year visit his dream come to life.
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How A Labor Of Love Grew Into An 'Enchanted Forest' In Oregon

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How A Labor Of Love Grew Into An 'Enchanted Forest' In Oregon

How A Labor Of Love Grew Into An 'Enchanted Forest' In Oregon

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Driving through Turner, Ore., on Highway I-5, there's a castle-shaped road sign with a waving Humpty Dumpty on top of it. It's for the Enchanted Forest theme park created by Roger Tofte and operated with the help of his kids.

SUSAN VASLEV: This is our family's park started by my dad. I'm Susan Vaslev. I'm the oldest of four children. So it was my childhood.

CHANG: Her son Derek now works there, too, and he's still in awe of the world his grandfather built by hand.

DEREK VASLEV: That guy had some guts, I guess, you know? I mean, that's crazy to go buy a plot of land and just start saying, I'm going to build a theme park with no backing, like, one bag of cement at a time. I mean, that's insane. Sorry, that's just - that's insane.

CHANG: The Enchanted Forest is the next stop in our summer road trip collaboration with the website Atlas Obscura.

ROGER TOFTE: I'm Roger Tofte, creator of the Enchanted Forest. I'm 88 years old.

CHANG: Tofte had always wanted to be an illustrator but took a job with the state highway department in the early '60s to support his young family. His imagination kept nagging at him, though, so he bought 20 acres of wooded hillside. And after work and on the weekends, he began sculpting scenes from fairy tales.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOFTE: Buy a sack of cement or whatever and come out here just plastering it on one step at a time.

CHANG: The guys at the highway department did not get it.

TOFTE: They were starting to kid me. You know, how is Funny Farm doing or how is Idiot Hill doing? And I got to thinking, I wonder if I should keep this up.

S. VASLEV: And I remember as a little kid going up to them and saying, that's my dad, and he's not crazy.

CHANG: And after seven years of working in isolation, Roger Tofte took a piece of butcher's paper, wrote the word open on it and stuck it on the fence.

TOFTE: That day, we had about 75 people coming through. And I was kind of excited, running around and putting lightbulbs in the seven dwarfs' mine (laughter). Anyway, we got home that night, you know, and we had this money. And the kids were jumping up and down, throwing the money on the bed. And we thought, you know, oh, we've got it made.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

S. VASLEV: This is his rebuilt Humpty Dumpty. He was on a wall, and then he was not. (Laughter) He had a fall. He had a great fall.

D. VASLEV: These are the talking heads.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Town crier the other day.

D. VASLEV: Medieval Old World country - you know, we have Merlin.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Laughter).

S. VASLEV: The first one was the Ice Mountain Bobsled roller coaster. That came first. And that was really early on in the park.

TOFTE: It places your bank 45 degrees in a circle. So that's kind of a little thrilling type of ride.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

S. VASLEV: Bumper cars and kiddie - you know, all the kiddie rides.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Your hands in, please.

S. VASLEV: The log flume ride.

TOFTE: It's the biggest log ride in the Northwest. It floats out through the woods. And then there's a roller coaster drop, which is - at the time was the only one in the world with a roller coaster dropping a log ride.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Screaming).

TOFTE: I imagine the haunted house is probably one of the scarier things for kids.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Laughter).

TOFTE: Kids are so confined a lot of times that I think when they get out here, they have a little more freedom, can roam around. And so there's some scary stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF HISSING)

TOFTE: But that's good for them.

(LAUGHTER)

S. VASLEV: So this is the English village we're in right now. And this is the gathering hall. And this is where the Irish band that I'm part of plays now.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing, unintelligible).

S. VASLEV: If you have a vision, you just keep working at it bit by bit by bit, and eventually it will get done. That's what I have learned from my dad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

S. VASLEV: For me, love, for example, is much different than other people. If you love that person, you will let them spend the time to fulfill their dream.

D. VASLEV: Rip all the old bearings out. This is the blue train for the Ice Mountain Bobsled.

Yeah, no, I've actually kind of grown to love it and really appreciate all the work my grandpa's put in. And we butt heads a lot because he's much more old-school. He's been using the same cement trough for probably - I think this cement trough's older than I am. And that stone's got to be that way. Don't ask him why. But he's going to be the guy that sits there forever and gets it the way he likes it. And you're just going to have to deal with it.

TOFTE: (Laughter) Yeah, it's really rewarding, you know, especially seeing all these families come in. And so many of them will stop me and thank me for doing this.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Thank you.

TOFTE: Well, thank you.

When you dream big, you can't just dream dreams and then not follow through. I know a lot of people dream this and that, but do they have the will to sacrifice? It takes a lot of sacrifice. It takes a lot of work and effort.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Early in the morning.

CHANG: That was Roger Tofte, his daughter Susan Vaslev and her son Derek Vaslev, part of the family behind the Enchanted Forest in Turner, Ore., the latest stop in our summer road trip series.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Paint a mustache on his forehead, paint a mustache on his forehead.

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