The Haunted Forest at Grand Farms is the brainchild of Mark Dodson, who purchased the 27-acre property from the Easterseals Washington organization several years ago. The property includes a horse farm where his wife Anni gives riding lessons and is a venue available to rent for weddings or other events.
October marks the Haunted Forest’s third year in operation. Crowds are expected to grow significantly in size this year with the closure of Belfair’s Haunted Junkyard. “We should have a minimum of 4,000 this year, possibly six with the Belfair scrap yard closed down,” said Rob Joanis, operations and logistics manager for the Forest.
The Haunted Forest is ready to spook thousands of souls with new props, new scares and over 20 actors haunting the half-mile trail, nearly double the number hired for the inaugural season two years ago.
For Angela Sismondi of Puyallup, the Haunted Forest is a step toward her dream of becoming a full-time actress. After getting hired as the Queen of the Forest, Sismondi has been helping out with costumes and constructing the vortex tunnel, as well as setting up structures in the woods. While these odd jobs aren’t directly linked to acting, Sismondi enjoys the camaraderie enough to make the long drive worth it. “Mark is so kind. Everyone here is like a family. I come in, I’m like one of the guys,” she said.
Anna Clark-Russo and her daughter Scarlet were at an espresso stand near Peninsula High School a year ago when they spotted an ad for the Forest. Scarlet, then 17, contacted the Dodsons to ask if he could use her skills as a makeup artist. She was hired. “Then we just stayed on and scared,” Clark-Russo said.
Both mother and daughter will be back in the Forest this year. Recounting her experience as the first actor on the Haunted Forest trail in 2017, Clark-Russo said, “I could hear them coming up: ‘Nothing here’s going to scare me.’ Then I make sure my leg hits the foliage and it makes noise. Then they’re looking around, and all of a sudden there’s this black figure standing there. I didn’t have to scream. I would reach out a hand, or I would walk up and look at them,” Clark-Russo said.
Lexie Priest has been taking riding lessons at Grand Farms for six years and was therefore a natural fit for the rider of the undead horse. “I kind of get roped into everything that happens here,” she said. Priest is also taking on much of the Forest’s social media responsibilities this season and drummed up early community interest by posting on the Forest’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts beginning in September.
The trail is long enough to “give them that sense of being lost,” Dodson said. Dodson, who has worked extensively in construction, spent months building blinds with Joanis to ensure portions of the trail are as dark as possible. “The darker it is, innately, inside of us, our awareness is heightened,” Dodson said. “The darkness in the woods is different from the darkness in a building.”
Guests agree. “We went last year. We had fun. It’s scary enough to give you a jolt here and there. Wear comfortable shoes. There’s lots of walking involved, specifically if someone from your party keeps trying to find the exit backwards from a little fright,” said local fan Sami Jensen.
The Haunted Forest is open from 7 to 11 p.m. every Friday and Saturday night in October, rain or shine, as well as Halloween night. Tickets are $17. Dodson encourages those seeking a lesser scare to come early in the month, as early in the evening as possible.
For more information, visit The Haunted Forest online at www.hauntedforestatgrandfarms.com or contact Grand Farms at 253-549-1940. The Haunted Forest is located at 17616 South Vaughn Road.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS