Bob Baranick is no rookie to theme park designing.
“My focus was Disneyland California—I also worked on Epcot,” he said. “Disneyland Paris was one of my passion projects. Busch Gardens, Williamsburg; Busch Gardens, Tampa; Six Flags, Georgia; Hershey, Pennsylvania. And then various projects across the world.”
But he said he wanted to branch out and create theme parks of his own. He’s from California, but loves North Carolina because that’s where his wife and art director Carol Wood, is from. Baranick said he and Wood chose Saxapahaw as the spot for a new park they’re working on, Whirligig Woods, for multiple reasons, partially because it’s an equal distance from the Triad and the Triangle.
“Carol and I fell in love with the community of Saxapahaw because of what it is,” he said. “The brand that Saxapahaw already is, is environmentally friendly. What very few people know about Whirligig Woods is that we’re trying to make it the quintessential green park.”
Listen to Baranick’s interview with Aaron Keck on WCHL.
Whirligig Woods gets its name from the whirligigs that will be incorporated into the park’s architecture and decorations. Baranick said they’re in memory of North Carolina artist Vollis Simpson, who used to make them out of scrap metal and objects before he passed away in 2013. Baranick said the park also gets its name from its surroundings.
“When I found this piece of property, it really had a soul,” he said. “It had beautiful overgrowth trees and wonderful topography so we’re trying to honor that… we’re trying to showcase it by letting guests go through it. It’s beautiful streams and flowers and big trees and that’s what it’s all about—to be outdoors and enjoy the woods.”
The park will include different lands: one with an ice cream parlor and theater, one with some spooky attractions, and another that will include tree houses that people can stay in. But Baranick said he wants to keep it quaint.
“We’re not building another Disney World,” he said. “This is a very small family park. It’s going to maybe be about 25 attractions. And I would say that probably 60 percent of the property is going to be left virgin. Because that’s the whole point, is we want people to enjoy the woods.”
He said it will also be immersive, with each piece and each ride with its own story.
“We’ve got just a simple little merry-go-round, but instead of fiberglass horses, they’re little ponies that are all dressed up in funny little outfits, and it’s adorable.”
Baranick is also in the planning stages of two more North Carolina parks: one at the coast and one in the mountains. But he said he’s focusing on Whirligig Woods first.
“We hope we get through this park,” he said. “This is a 10 or 12-year master plan and we actually started with a smaller park out at the coast that was seaside, based on Blackbeard the Pirate and some others out there.”
Baranick said instead of building all the attractions at once, he’ll build them onto Whirligig Woods in time, during the 10-year master plan. He said the opening date is targeted for 2019.
Photo via BobBaranick.com