It's every kid's dream: spending time with magical characters in an enchanted forest guarded by a dragon.
It will also be the reality for kids-at-heart Blair and MJ Johnson, who just bought an amusement park that brings to life the world of nursery rhymes and fairy tales -- and even includes its own live-in Candy Cane House.
Tucked away in the cedar forests and mountainous terrain of British Columbia, the 55-year-old Enchanted Forest had been on the market, along with its sister site, SkyTrek Adventure Park, for a cool $2.7 million.
"The owners have been running the park for more than 40 years," listing agent Steve Daschuk told Yahoo Homes. "They are ready to retire and pass the park on to someone else."
That someone was Blair Johnson, who actually has a long history with the park. His family has a lake home in nearby Sicamous and he's spent summers visiting the park since he was 4 years old. Now, with his wife MJ and three sons, he spends time there every summer again as a dad.
"I always wanted to go to the Forest more than my parents would let me, so I've made sure my kids go a lot," he says. "We know the park inside and out."
Besides the Enchanted Forest, the property's 38 acres include a small lake (with rowboats), climbing walls, an aerial trekking course and zip lines.
Within the Enchanted Forest itself is the Candy Cane House -- built by the original owner to live in -- as well as the requisite castle with a dragon lording over it, nursery-rhyme-themed huts along wooded trails, and a large treehouse.
A hand-built retirement project
The property started with the Enchanted Forest, which was supposed to be a small retirement project for Doris and Ernest Needham in the 1950s, Daschuk told Yahoo Homes.
Doris was an artist in Revelstoke, the town nearest to the park, and she handcrafted—without molds or instructions—fairy-tale figurines out of cement.
After searching for two years, she finally found "the perfect setting for her handiwork," according to the Enchanted Forest website, and she and her husband went to work clearing trails with nothing but shovels, picks and a crosscut saw. Then they populated it with her figures, opening the park on July 1, 1960.
It became a roadside attraction, pulling in visitors from the Trans-Canada Highway when it opened through Rogers Pass in 1962. Ernest spent his time building the long winding stone walls and building the Candy Cane House where they lived.
They conducted any evening tours by lantern, because there was no electricity. A waterfall across the highway supplied a gravity-fed water system they installed.
Despite their relative isolation, they ushered more than a million people through the park during the decade they ran it, according to the website. They sold it in the early 1970s.
'I do what children do for fun'
It passed through several hands before Rocky and Juliet Ehlers purchased it. They have the longest history at the park, having owned it for decades. They and their three children have modernized the park -- which now has phones and electricity -- and have installed more characters and make-believe cottages along the trails. Nearly 400 figurines from fairy tales and nursery rhymes now dot the park.
"We sell a good product," Rocky Ehlers told the Huffington Post B.C. "We sell healthy recreation for people of all ages. They don't get fat and they don't get drunk."
And it's a good life for the proprietors too, he said. "I do what children do for fun. I build treehouses and forts, and then people come to see it."
New owners at the helm
That's exactly what the Johnsons were looking for. As longtime fans of the Enchanted Forest, the couple was actually interested in starting their own kind of unique theme park. Sitting at Sky Trek a few years ago, they tried to tally up the cost in their heads, but quickly abandoned the idea.
"It was a really short conversation," he says. "The price added up so much we decided it was an impossible dream and that it would never happen. So we kind of moved away from that a little bit."
Then, this past February, they were standing in line at a large theme park in California when a cousin told them the Enchanted Forest was for sale.
"We immediately ran back to the hotel room," Blair Johnson says. "We had no idea what the value was; if it was $500,000 or $10 million, but we pulled up the listing and said, 'I really think we can do this and make this happen.'"
"We got back home and ran the financials and did our due diligence and here we are," he says.
They are focused on growing the park, while keeping the artistry of the original figurines alive, and plan to bring on more local artists to add to the forest's figurines.
It's been a major change for the family. Both MJ and Blair had corporate jobs working 9 to 5 before taking the helm at the park. But they're learning to disconnect a little and enjoy the throwback to a simpler time.
Plus, they're enjoying how much their kids love it.
"They are pretty fired up," he says.
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