Creator of Wholesome Theme Park Determined to Find Location and Funds

Creator of Wholesome Theme Park Determined to Find Location and Funds
Greg Schumsky at the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Expo. (Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)
Lynn Hackman

SAN DIEGO—In 2019, Greg Schumsky, a San Diego resident, was employed as an engineer for a boutique design studio, working on projects for innovative entertainment giants such as Disney and Universal.

It was a position,  says, that was a “dream come true” and one that would lay the foundation for an even bigger dream still unfolding four years later: that of building a pioneering theme park in the manner of Walt Disney himself.

It all started on drives to Summers Past Farms, a vintage market in east San Diego, when Mr. Schumsky and his wife Lisa would pass the abandoned Marshal Scotty’s Playland Park in El Cajon.

Each time they passed the old amusement park, something, he said, would tug at him.

As a child, some of his most treasured memories were of visiting Marshal Scotty’s for a fun-filled day of amusements like pony and train rides, waterslides, a roller coaster, and riding a big Ferris wheel. It was a place that evoked happy memories with friends and family—days filled with snow cones and celebrating birthdays under colorful covered wagons.

“Every time we’d drive by the old Marshal Scotty’s property, my wife and I would ... muse about how cool it would be to rebuild a portion of the property as an old western town with some amusement rides; a wholesome roadside attraction maybe with shopping and restaurants,” Mr. Schumsky told The Epoch Times.

He said he reached out to the property owners, however, the $7 million price tag for five acres of the land was way out of his league.

Young Greg with his mother, Sandra, and older brother Bob at Marshal Scottys. (Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)
Young Greg with his mother, Sandra, and older brother Bob at Marshal Scottys. (Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)
Undeterred, Mr. Schumsky founded Acorn Entertainment Group, a design business dedicated to the creation of unique and wholesome family entertainment, and continued to cultivate his idea for a small-scale attraction which then morphed into a full-scale, Western-themed amusement park he named “Jackalope Junction.” He continues to look for a home for his idea.

He said a crucial element of his concept is an Old West theme.

“No matter where you go in the world, audiences romanticize the great American western; because it’s about forging unknown paths, facing certain danger or even death, and then surviving and even thriving,” Mr. Schumsky said.

Now, with a concrete creative concept, Mr. Schumsky methodically designed a layout and plans, executed a feasibility study, and developed a profit and loss spreadsheet. He thought to himself, “This could really work.”

Enthusiastic about their father’s creation of Jackalope Junction, Mr. Schumsky’s children suggested he incorporate modern steampunk elements into the premise: a genre of science fiction that incorporates the Victorian era with gothic and industrial themes, to illuminate the town and its characters in an interesting way.

“I took the kids’ idea and combined it with a love of Jules Verne stories and Old West movies,” Mr. Schumsky said. “Jackalope Junction will be the first-ever Steampunk Western ‘Storypark’—a story that takes place in the late 1800’s old west town of Mighty Oak Springs—a town filled with everything from anthropomorphic animals, people, robots, and fantastical machines.”

(Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)
(Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)

In an homage to what Marshal Scotty’s had once been, Mr. Schumsky said that Jackalope Junction will have similar amusement rides and attractions, but it will also be filled with characters who tackle the challenges—and savor the benefits—of modern life from the perspective of old-school values.

Most importantly, he envisions the town as a place where its stories and characters would be filled with mystery and adventure while emphasizing sensible, family-friendly Biblical values such as honesty, humility, kindness, grace, hope, accountability, respect, and bravery.

Mr. Schumsky told The Epoch Times that the park will be a 20-acre fully immersive adventure for families and guests of all ages that will take visitors through mysterious mine caves aboard a specially outfitted time-travel train to the fantastical world of Jackalope Junction.

“Imagine a place where you can simply take your time enjoying all the sights and sounds of the town, go on an adventure, become a Deputy Sheriff, or just relax and explore the backcountry,” he said.

“Visitors will literally be immersed in the history of Jackalope Junction, and engage with its citizens, and other characters. There’s literally something for everyone at any age; you can listen to music by local musicians, have a picnic at Paula Pigg’s, participate in a watermelon eating contest, see local farmers display their prized animals, go to a real-life hoedown, or explore mysterious mining caves. It’s all up to each visitor.”

It Takes a Village to Create a Town

A 40-year veteran in the entertainment business, Mr. Schumsky created Jackalope Junction as a result of his vivid imagination, as well as his design industry background in architecture, industrial design, filmmaking, animation, and themed-entertainment design.

He began posting on social media snippets of the storyline and characters like “Jackalope Jim” the town sheriff—part jackrabbit, part antelope, with an artificial bionic arm known as the fastest draw in the west.

Soon, his network of friends and colleagues, even strangers, left posts of praise and encouragement, some offering to join his volunteer team of collaborators.

Ultimately, Mr. Schumsky’s posts caught the eye of renowned digital animator Kirk Hanson.

Kirk Hanson. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)
Kirk Hanson. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)

Mr. Hanson’s illustrious career includes many years as part of the powerhouse team of creatives at Walt Disney Feature Animation, working on blockbuster movies including “Aladdin,” “Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Treasure Planet,” “The Princess and the Frog,” and more.

“After 40 years in the animation and entertainment industry, I thought what I saw in Greg’s posts was very intriguing,” Mr. Hanson told The Epoch Times.

Eventually, the two connected and began discussing the creation of a streaming television series based on the characters Mr. Schumsky developed for the theme park.

Since then, Mr. Hanson has been working on developing the first act of a pilot which he hopes will help launch the first of many in a streaming series of Jackalope Junction, thereby garnering the necessary branding and funds to bring the series and theme park to reality.

“It’s very exciting to be on the ground floor of creating a new [imaginary] world and a whole new cast of characters,” Mr. Hanson told The Epoch Times. “Who knows, it could become as well known and ubiquitous as the Star Wars or Coca Cola, but also something very influential in terms of maybe making our lives better.”

Mr. Schumsky’s Jackalope Junction team is now made up of a host of ex-Disney Imagineers, accomplished animators, story writers, concept artists, college students and more who are helping to bring the story to life in books, television, and movie scripts, as well as the goal of a building a theme park.

Russ Swanger. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)
Russ Swanger. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)

Acorn Entertainment Group board member and business manager Russ Swanger told The Epoch Times that after spending nearly five decades in the entertainment industry, he noticed a change in the thinking, expectations, and behaviors of the general public, which is why he thinks Jackalope Junction would be a positive influence.

“I understand that progress and change is inevitable, and that it is up to us as leaders to keep and reinforce ideas that are necessary for our world to be safer and more prosperous for all humans. Concepts such as accountability, courage, respect, and compassion are some of the Acorn Entertainment Group’s values that we take seriously,” Mr. Swanger said.

The concept, he says, is meant to engage minds and reinforce wholesome, positive lessons through Jackalope Junction’s unique immersive entertainment.

“I believe we can engage minds and positively impact generations through our unique immersive entertainment that will teach, inspire, and uplift folks with a shared sense of joy and optimism,” he said.

Another member of the team, former Walt Disney Imagineer, Brian Collins, met Mr. Schumsky via LinkedIn after he came across a post about Jackalope Junction several years ago.

Brian Collins. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)
Brian Collins. (Courtesy Acorn Entertainment Group)

Mr. Collins said he was intrigued with the concept and reached out to Mr. Schumsky to learn more.

“Since then, I’ve been working with him on an advisory basis along with other amazing volunteer creatives helping to design the story of Jackalope Junction and raise the visibility of the project,” Mr. Collins told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Collins, who is a full-time professor at the University of Florida teaching Product Development for Theme Parks, Entertainment Technology and Innovation, and Event Production, says he considers himself somewhat of an expert on the themed entertainment industry.

He thinks Mr. Schumsky’s concept is a good one.

“Greg’s concept has so many appealing aspects to it: ‘Western Steampunk’ with engaging characters, a rich backstory, a family-friendly approach, and loads of wonderful intellectual property to leverage and monetize,” he said.

Mr. Collins noted that Mr. Schumsky sees himself in the same mold as Walt Disney, with a huge concept that will demand enormous commitment and significant financing.

“As someone who sees a lot of concepts and ideas, this is one that I think pushes all the right buttons and would find a large audience quickly,” he said. “As Walt himself said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it!’ Greg has definitely dreamed it and I would be thrilled to someday see it come to fruition, knowing I helped in some small way.”

(Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)
(Courtesy of Greg Schumsky, Acorn Entertainment Group)

Keeping the Faith

Mr. Schumsky shared that some days he thinks his dream of bringing Jackalope Junction to fruition is too difficult to achieve, and he struggles down a lonely road of doubts.

He says he’s even received hate mail and death threats for “having an agenda”—for wanting to bring God and the Golden Rules back into the home.

But then something will happen that helps him keep his faith, he said, to keep working for another day. He’ll get a call from an industry veteran with encouraging words or receive a postcard from a stranger that reads “keep going, keep going, keep going, keep going.”

Occasionally, Mr. Schumsky will wear a T-shirt with Jackalope Jim on it and people ask him about the cheerful-looking character.

“I tell them about the story and that it’s about teaching kids respect and responsibility,” he said. “I don’t know who they are, what they do, what their political or religious leanings are, and when I tell them about Jackalope Junction they tell me how much it’s needed, how something like it would help them and their families. I hear it all the time—‘we need this’—some people even cry when I explain it to them.”

Although there are days when he gets discouraged by his quest to find a location for the park or funds to make it all happen, Mr. Schumsky says he knows he’s on the right path.

“I believe that God inspired all this and gave me the idea to create something truly unique and wonderful, something that is wholesome, lovely, and pure—something that the whole family can enjoy,” he said. “Now all we need is to find the perfect home for it, and the perfect investors or partners who believe in it just as much as we do.”

Lynn is a reporter for the Southern California edition of The Epoch Times, based in Orange County. She has enjoyed a 25-year career as a senior-level strategic public relations and contingency planning executive. An editor, blogger, and columnist, Lynn also has experience as a television and radio show producer and host. For six years, she was co-host of Sunday Brunch with Tom and Lynn on KOCI 101.5 FM. She is also active in the Newport Beach community, serving as chair emeritus of the Newport Beach City Arts Commission, among various positions with other local organizations.
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