Tucked away atop Beech Mountain in North Carolina is a tiny town that bears the same name as the mountain that houses it. The population is small — only several hundred people — and besides the fact that Beech Mountain is geographically the highest town in the United States east of the Rocky Mountains, making it a good spot for skiing, there isn’t much else to draw people there. It does, however, have something completely unique that’s worth visiting — as long as you can get in, that is. Your next opportunity is coming up soon, too: The Land of Oz theme park will be open on weekends in June in 2016, so if you’ve always wanted to see it, now would be the time to get planning.
Land of Oz isn’t precisely abandoned, which is why I’ve never included it in any of the editions of “Abandoned” I’ve written over the past several years. However, it’s also not fully functional, opening only for very brief periods at a few key points during the year. One of those times is during the fall, for the annual Autumn at Oz festival; and one is during the summer for select weekends. These events have been running since roughly the late ‘90s, and now they’re a much-beloved part of Beech Mountain’s cultural landscape.
The Wizard of Oz-themed park first opened in 1970, the creation of Jack Pentes and Grover Robbins, who had previously seen success with his Tweetsie Railroad park in Blowing Rock, NC (which, by the way, is still open today). The idea was to make Beech Mountain not just a ski resort, but a year-round attraction, with visitors interacting with the story of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as if they had stepped right into Dorothy’s silver shoes (or ruby slippers, depending on whether you’re following the book’s mythology or the movie’s). There weren’t rides in the traditional sense; the park was more of a walk-through experience hinging on the source material’s emotional journey.
Robbins sadly passed away shortly before the opening of Land of Oz, although the park operated for 10 years. Hard times, however, caused Land of Oz to close in 1980, and for many years thereafter, it existed in a state of disrepair, vandalized and with key elements stripped from the property by trespassers.
In 1990, though, a project called Emerald Mountain was launched, and in the decades since, Emerald Mountain has restored Land of Oz — although these days, it’s less of a theme park and more of “an enchanting private garden,” as Emerald Mountain’s website puts it. Dorothy’s farm and the gazebo have been brought back to their former glory; water-based elements of the park’s landscaping — fountains, waterfalls, and the like — have been made operational again; and the yellow brick road has been put back in order. You can rent the place for weddings and parties, and again, for a handful of moments throughout the year, the park is open to the general public for a relatively inexpensive price of admission — usually around $12, plus a $10 ticket for the ski lift to the property, which must be purchased separately.
This year, Land of Oz presents Journey With Dorothy, with tours occurring on June 3, 10, 17, and 24 — all Fridays — on the half-hour every hour from 10:30am to 3:30pm. Tickets are $12.50, plus the aforementioned $10 lift ticket; they’re limited, though, so you’d better move fast. The flora and fauna have grown a little wild, so be warned that the park’s pathways aren’t super accessible — but I mean, come on. It’s Oz. Who wouldn’t want to check that out?
…Well, you know how it goes.