Screamparks Can Be A lot More than Just Another Haunted House
Over the years I have met many haunt owners at trade shows, conventions and visits to our farm. A common question consistently comes up early in conversation when folks find out how much we offer at Kersey Valley Attractions. A small, 5-room haunt, in an early 1930’s farm house is where it all started. At a mere 15 years old I had a dream to scare people. We learned that people loved to get scared as much as we love scaring them. In 1985, when we opened our first haunt, I never imagined what it would grow into today. Find what you love to do, make a living at it and you will never work a day in your life. The statement holds true for my wife, Donna, and I every day. We wake up in the middle of the scream park and look forward to meeting our next guests.
The short operational timeframe of the haunted attraction was the very thing that was holding us back from growing the business. Donna and I started exploring expansion options for the short season with other attractions. A corn maze was the first attempt to expand our season. We thought it would be a great idea to offer a corn maze on September nights a month before the haunted attraction opened. Many times we have failed at what sounded good on paper when reality handed us a completely different result. The first weekend the corn maze opened at night our guests asked for their money back at the ticket booth. I was in shock and the customers were upset that they were out in the maze for an hour with no scares. We established a reputation for scaring people and learned our maze concept was not what guests expected or desired. The corn was destroyed by guest scaring other guests. Families with small children demanded to speak to the owner. One parent commented that we should be ashamed for scaring young children in strollers. We, of course, were not scaring anyone. Instead our time was spent trying to calm down upset parents rather than having any fun running the business.
Donna and I decided to take the corn maze idea back to the drawing board. We vacationed to Gatlinburg, TN to take a break after the first season with the corn maze. We noted how many gem panning shops caught our eye and decided to visit one. We found a concept that sells a bag or bucket of gem rough to wash it with water running down a sluice box which reveals the gem stones left behind. Upselling the discovered gem stones into jewelry was the goal for additional revenue. We loved the family aspect of the gem panning attraction, but decided an educational experience would be the upsell. Donna had the brilliant idea to create field trip opportunities that target Kindergarten through 6th graders.
The daytime attraction was named Maize Adventure. A decision was made to combine the corn maze and gem dig events into a package to target schools. The key was aligning the field trip options with NC competency guidelines for administration approval to attend our attraction as part of educational studies. This combination was instantly successful with comments of tremendous praise from the kids and teachers. The next step was conscious effort given to keep our event fresh and current. We discovered the teachers were our best sales representatives. Each year they had a new class that had not been to the Maize Adventure. Donna researched and created packages targeted to each grade level, making the approval process painless for teachers. We added fossils to the package to give classes another reason to come back. An outdoor classroom called Planting Seeds of Knowledge created hands on activities that involved students in learning while having fun making “sprout pals.” The sprout pals were the hands-on component to learning how plants grow. The kids put a spoon full of grass seed in pantyhose, two scoops of planting soil on top to make a ball of dirt and placed it all in a small flower pot. The kids placed eyes on the pot to place in the window at school or take home. The pots were watered at school, keeping transportation easy and mess free. Children were our next marketing secret, convincing parents to bring them back to Maize Adventure on the weekends. We began giving each child a wristband with the Maize Adventure website and phone number. It quickly gave a child bragging rights to have one on at school.
Field trip packages were expanded to include a small pumpkin for each child. Once again, we fell into the unexpected business of selling pumpkins in September, long before retailers had them available for purchase. The kids loved the small pumpkins and brought parents back on the weekends in October to pick out the larger ones for Halloween. The latest addition is an education about honey bees named Bee Educated. The students learn about the various jobs bees have as a few lucky students dress up in bee costumes. The teacher can take her throne as the queen. After the class students walk through a life-size bee hive that houses 2 million bees in observation hives. Each child also receives a small jar of Kersey Valley honey to take home after the classroom experience.
Over the years we have added family friendly attractions like twin giant jumping pillows, cow train rides, tram rides, duck races and inflatable horse rides. The daytime business finally caught up with the haunted attraction in popularity. We found that we had reached another turning point in the building of our scream park. Donna and I opted to take a cruise after another busy season. We took a cave tubing excursion and went zip lining in Belize in 2005. We were initially scared of the dark caves the tubing took us in, but the head lamps revealed an amazing site. This was the perfect inspiration needed to build a rock shop to complement our gem dig. The rock shop was created to emulate the caves and made a perfect themed environment to sell various rocks and fossils. We soon discovered that kids will spend every dollar the parents give them for the field trip.
The next adventure, after the cave tubing, was a zip line tour through the jungle. I had never zip lined before and was scared to death. I became comfortable after zipping down a few lines and fell in love with the concept of this group activity. I knew as soon as my feet hit the ground what I wanted to add to the farm; a zip line tour. The concept was not well received by local officials. The comment from the planning and zoning department head was, “We don’t want a zip line in Guilford County.” It was my mission to educate the county planning department on the international standards of the zip line industry and Kersey Valley’s plan to exceed them. Passing a haunted house inspection is tough; building 60 foot sky towers and overcoming dozens of unknown issues never addressed was a real nightmare. With persistence, the assistance of my local county commissioner and two engineering firms we got the permits to start construction. One of the requirements to be open year-round was a public hearing to rezone the farm. There wasn’t a good response when Kersey Valley’s classification was questioned. A new classification, Special Use with conditions, was created. The addition of permanent restrooms was required which lead us to build a full kitchen facility at the same time. We found ourselves the owners of a year-round scream park, open 7 days a week except Christmas day. We built 10 zip line sky towers and placed them in prime locations to get the cross promotion from our other attractions. The zip line tour is themed in aviation with each tower representing airport city codes. Flight school, themed as a travel agency, offers an instructional video from Captain Douglas Mortimer, a character taking his inspiration from the Red Baron.
The next step was finding a year-round activity that fit our environment. We determined outdoor laser tag was the perfect fit. The technology has evolved into a cool activity that uses high tech military inspired weapons with instant feedback on hits and stats. It is not the laser tag we grew up with in the 80’s. We created several playing fields that cater to birthday parties to corporate team outings.
In 2015 we built a 4 escape room that are open year round in varies parts of the farm. One of the games is in a 3 story mansion with 5 rooms you have to escape that we close during haunt season, but our guests get to visit as part of the Spookywoods experience. Also in 2015 we build a high ropes challenge course that caters to civic groups, corporate team building and open to the public on weekends April through November. In February of 2019 we added indoor axe throwing and an outdoor axe throwing tour across the farm.
In April of 2019 we started on a two year project to build a rail road around the corn maze area on the farm. We jumped on the opportunity to purchase another 20 acres adjoining our farm January of 2020. This will allow us to keep expanding our attractions with ease. We have added two massive sunflower mazes on this property for our daytime fall event Maize Adventure. These sunflower mazes will be planted with a GPS planter allowing us to design them in an image as they grow. The mazes are planted with up to 9 varieties of flowers with different day lengths to stager the blooming across our season. One maze will be using a non-pollenating flower perfect for cut your own flowers.
In spring of 2020 we started building phase two of the rail road adding a Wild West ghost town around the track for the train guests to experience during our day time event Maize Adventure in the fall. At night guest can purchase an add on ticket to Spookywoods and shoot outlaws and target with a laser tag weapon from the train.
Stop by and hang out near the jumping pillows, cow train rides and zip lines and you will hear lots of happily screaming kids and adults all over the farm. A scream park does not mean you need another haunted house; think outside the realm of haunting and you will be amazed at the fun stuff you can offer!
Comes up with the Fun Stuff
Kersey Valley, Inc.
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