Childhood Wonderland

October 1, 2014, Department, by Danielle Taylor

Storybook Land and the Land of Oz at Wylie Park in Aberdeen, South Dakota, has been inspiring the imaginations of visitors for almost 40 years.  It’s not uncommon to see life-size versions of fairy tale characters at theme parks that charge heavy admission fees, but at a free public park? That’s a little different. At Wylie Park in Aberdeen, South Dakota, the attractions of Storybook Land and the Land of Oz have been enchanting visitors for almost 40 years.

Conceived in the late 1960s as a tribute to The Wizard of Oz author and former Aberdeen resident L. Frank Baum, Storybook Land and the Land of Oz were originally envisioned to showcase 15 storybook characters and 10 figures from the Oz book series. The Aberdeen Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the Aberdeen Sertoma Club, a local philanthropic organization, partnered early on in the project with a united goal to provide a community amenity that would be forever free of charge.

“That was always the agreement,” says Bob Gruman, Sertoma’s chairman of the Storybook Land Committee and a key figure since the advent of the project. A number of local businesses have stepped up to fund individual sculptures and sets, and Dorothy’s iconic Yellow Brick Road connects many of the different elements throughout the park. A 1-mile track serves the Storybook Land Express train, which offers visitors a chance to see the park’s zoo and other features they might otherwise miss.

Growing from a few imagination-inspired characters to an impressive array of experiences, Storybook Land now offers a whirlwind tornado encounter in Auntie Em’s house, an eerie walk past the talking trees of Oz, a range of performances by a summer theater company and much more. NRPA honored the park’s Youth Heritage Arts Festival in 1994 and the Storybook Land Theatre Company in 1998 with the association’s Dorothy Mullen Arts and Humanities Award, which recognizes programs that take an innovative approach to the arts, humanities and recreation.

Danielle Taylor is the Executive Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine.