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

Aug 9, 2018
Originally published on August 9, 2018 10:47 pm

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."

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


TOFTE: But that's good for them.


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.


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.


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.