Former Disney imagineer ends plans for North Carolina theme park

An illustration of Whirligig Woods on its opening day.
An illustration of Whirligig Woods on its opening day.

A former Disney imagineer who helped design Epcot, Disneyland Paris and popular attractions such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain and the Haunted Mansion was planning a theme park in North Carolina.

But the plan has been dissolved due to lack of investors.

Bob Baranickwas planning to open Whirligig Woods in Saxapahaw in Alamance County near the Haw River as soon as 2019. Saxapahaw is about 20 miles west of Chapel Hill and about an hour from Raleigh.

"I always wanted to maintain a high level of quality and we did not have the funds to do it right," Baranick said in an email to The News & Observer on Monday.

Baranick, of Raleigh, purchased 21 acres for the park near Stockard Road and N.C. 87. Baranick said he plans to "hold on to the land and protect the tree growth."

"My long-term hope is that I can find another place and time to help bring a great family experience to North Carolina," Baranick said. "In the meantime, I really do appreciate the overwhelming amount of support we got from all across the state."

The “boutique” theme park was expected to begin with a train ride and a few other attractions and continue to grow in phases over the years, Baranick said, much the way the Disney parks have grown.

The park was a private endeavor, though, and wasn't affiliated with Disney. Other later additions could have included a tree house resort and a haunted land. Baranick said last year he had plans plans for two more parks in the state, though details on those had not yet been revealed.

Baranick worked extensively on Disney attractions as an imagineer and has more than 40 years of themed entertainment design. He’s also worked on Paramount Parks, Warner Studios, Six Flags, Everland, Busch Entertainment, Hershey’s and Universal Studios, among others.

He’s consulted on projects around the world, including those in Turkey, China, Abu Dhabi and Korea.

For more information on Baranick, go to bobbaranick.com.

Construction crews are building five new rides and a new 8,000-square foot playground for young children at Carowinds. The theme park is renovating and expanding its Camp Snoopy and is offering free season passes for preschoolers ages 3-5. The nea