Planning a haunted attraction that is open for roughly one month of the year is an all-year project. Corn mazes must be planted and cut months in advance. Conventions must be attended to find the perfect props to scare guests. Permanent structures like log cabins and graveyards are built to take attractions to the next level.
Businesspeople and Halloween enthusiasts in the Athens area take their passion for horror and turn it into cash through hardwork and creativity. Whether it be to help earn some extra money or simply because they love the experience, owners and managers of haunted houses turn spooky innovations into seasonal attractions for students and locals.
A particularly popular haunt in the Athens area is Wicked Forest, located in Hocking Hills State Park. The attraction opened in 2008, but closed temporarily in 2015 and 2016. This year, Wicked Forest is back, open and ready to entertain young people and tourists in the area with its more than a half-mile of wooded trail filled with roughly 25 actors dressed to scare.
If You Go:
What: Wicked Forest
When: 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays through Oct. 28
Where: 15111 State Route 664 South, Logan
Admission: General admission: $12
Military and first responders: $10
Group rates available for 12 or more
What: Fright at the Fairgrounds “Haunted Barn”
When: 8 p.m., Saturdays in October
Where: 96 Meadow Run Rd, Wellston
Admission: General admission: $9
Fast pass: $15
What: Field of Screams
When: 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 4
Where: 28364 Osborne Rd, Coolville
Karen Armes, the general manager of Wicked Forest, said the haunt is staffed completely by volunteers. The operation includes actors, security guards, a bus driver and others to man the ticket booth. Despite its popularity, Wicked Forest makes no profit – all proceeds from ticket sales are invested right back into the forest the following year.
Armes said preparation for the open season lasts nearly all year. The crew gets one month off after Wicked Forest closes at the end of October, and then it’s back to the drawing board to plan for the next fall.
The actors in Wicked Forest are all original creations — none are copied from popular horror movies. The forest also sets itself apart from other Halloween attractions in the area by embracing the sounds of the outdoors rather than playing scary sound effects.
“We want (visitors) to be in the woods and know (they’re) in the woods,” Armes said. “We want them to hear the sounds of nature in the Hocking Hills and know they’re outdoors. We want them to experience the Hocking Hills.”
The Jackson County Fairgrounds in Wellston hosts the Fright at the Fairgrounds “Haunted Barn” each year to support fairgrounds operations and youth programs.
Six years ago, Jamey Sexton, a member of the Jackson County Fair Board and Livestock Committee, pitched the idea to host the haunt as a fundraiser to help pay for barn renovations and repairs, scholarships and other donations to youth programs involved in the fair.
The barn has grown in popularity throughout the years, Sexton said, and it raises about $6,000 during its four nights of operation.
The Haunted Barn, Sexton said, is a huge collection of different scary scenes that takes nearly half an hour to walk through. In the past, the barn has featured themed sections such as a funeral parlor, a car crash, a corn maze and a school bus modeled in the style of a scene in the movie Jeepers Creepers.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end,” Sexton said. “We raise a good bit of money for the fairgrounds, plus it’s a lot of fun. We have a good time.”
Mike Murphy opened Field of Screams at his farm in Coolville last year as a way to earn some extra money to pay the mortgage on the 132-acre property he and his siblings inherited. His haunt features a 2.7-mile journey through a corn maze and wooded trail filled with eerie settings like a haunted church and clown village.
“It’s a lot of work,” Murphy said. “We’re planning to grow and grow and grow, and take the suggestions of the customers and try to incorporate it in.”
Field of Screams is staffed by Murphy’s family and friends, and is what he calls “family-oriented,” attracting visitors of all ages. His attraction has received dozens of five-star reviews on its Facebook page, and Murphy said most people who visit the farm plan to return.
“It’s a nice walk and everything,” he said. “You’ll see all kinds of different acts and nothing gory. It’s more of the acts you’ll see in horror movies.”