Walk Wallingford’s Trail of Terror . . . if you dare.
Walking down the lonely road approaching Wallingford’s PNA Park on a clear and crisp October eve, my friend Stacey and I hear faraway shouts and screams coming from the woods before us, rising and falling like a roller coaster in the distance. Suddenly, a silent, ghostly figure lurches from the shadows, carrying a lantern and waving away all who would come this way. He doesn’t say a word, but from his grotesque appearance and menacing gestures, only those who want to be scared out of their wits would continue . . . which is precisely why we—and droves of other scare-seekers—forge onward to the Trail of Terror.
At the entrance—a creepy ramshackle façade—dozens are already in line, buzzing about the anticipated thrills. Costumed characters roam about, randomly terrorizing unsuspecting souls, while an animatronic organ sputters to life, creaking out a haunting dirge. Goosebumps start to rise, but it’s not due to the chilly night air. “It’s so good,” squeals a girl behind us. “We’ve been coming for five years and it’s always worth it.” As rumbles, explosions, shrieks and screams (lots of screams) come from inside the trail, it sounds as though many others would agree.
Finally, after a half-hour wait (pay extra for the “Fast Pass,” it’s worth it), it’s our turn, and for the next 45 minutes, we “brave” a seemingly endless nightmare of frightening scenes, enduring an array of freaks and ghouls along the way (including fiendish clowns—which is redundant as far as I’m concerned). We wander a lonely cornfield, traverse a haunted school bus, stumble along dark corridors, crawl through cramped spaces, slide past bloody scenes, and are startled, scared and shocked at every turn. At one point, we are guided to a decrepit slide that leads blindly down into a dark pit. In the gloom, I exchange a nervous glance with Stacey. “Ladies first,” I say gallantly.
And yes, we scream.
The trail has come a long way from the simple Halloween fun that started in Wayne Barneschi’s front yard over a decade ago. Now an elaborate multiset experience that sprawls over three wooded acres and stays up (but not open) year-round, it has become a near full-time avocation for Barneschi, and a significant fundraiser. Over four weekends last October, 20,000 people walked the trail, generating $100,000 for the Red Cross and other local charities.
“It’s just crazy how many people come through here,” says Barneschi, who now commands 300 volunteers, including 50 regulars each night. “The first year, the area where you line up now was going to be our parking lot—we had cars in there, we had no lights and the people started to line up two hours early. And all of sudden, it was like, ‘Oh boy.’ We didn’t know. We honestly didn’t know.”
But what’s the big draw?
“It’s more of a reality thing,” suggests Barneschi. “That little bit of doubt, wondering what’s behind the mask or makeup. I think that’s what attracts people. They like things that are interactive, right there in your face and scaring you, rather than seeing it on a screen.” He also thinks that being outdoors adds something to the experience. “It’s great outside. People can step on a twig and get scared.”
I can vouch for that, as I see more than one person jumping at low-hanging tree branches in the breeze. It’s also unsettling that the trail is labyrinthine, twisting back past itself in numerous spots and forcing spooked patrons by one another, often resulting in unintentional scares. But in the end, it’s the many intentional ones that make it worthwhile.
“You feel like you’ve accomplished something when you get that many screams in one location,” Barneschi says. “It can be aggravating at times—you want to kill each other setting up in September. But once the front gate opens and you hear the first few screams, all the lack of sleep and everything else goes away.”
For more info, visit trailofterror.com.