Family fear attraction brings nightly frights to Boone

The entrance to the haunted house at Bloody Pines. Each room has a different theme to scare its guests.
The entrance to the haunted house at Bloody Pines. Each room has a different theme to scare its guests.
Jenna Guzman

Night is falling at the High Country Fairgrounds and the Bloody Pines scare actors race against the setting sun. The atmosphere is thick with anticipation, as one family and its volunteers prepare for a night of terror, screams and memories. 

Coming out of an off-season, The Bloody Pines haunted house and trail is back with a new name to give guests a spooky season experience every Friday and Saturday night in October, plus the first weekend of November if weather permits.

Kat Staufer completing an actor’s makeup, minutes before the trail opens at Bloody Pines, Friday Oct. 13, 2023. (Jenna Guzman)

Located at the High Country Fairgrounds, the scare attraction opens when it gets dark and closes at 11 p.m. 

Run by Matt Ward and his family, the entire operation is made up of scare actors, makeup artists, builders, people who control the bonfires and more, all of which are a part of a 28-35 person team of volunteers, excluding the concession workers who also help make it all happen. 

“We’ve still got the same people we’ve started with and more,” Ward said. “They’ve all become family to us.”

Ward, who was born and raised in Boone, said October is the month where he gets to see and spend time with some of the family because they are busy during the rest of the year.

“They’re pretty loyal,” Ward said. “That’s pretty awesome to give their time like that.”

Because the trail opens at sundown, it’s a race against the sun for everyone involved in creating the scare factor. All actors need to be in makeup and costume, and when there is only one makeup artist working, sometimes the actors help each other get ready or they get ready before arriving. 

Scare actor Ramona Coffey said the actors arrive at 5 p.m. for makeup, which is done by Ward’s daughter, Kat Staufer. 

“We try to beat that sundown because once sundown hits, that’s when you gotta start,” Coffey said. 

Most of the actors make their costumes, allowing for creativity in their looks and their character.

“Everything is kind of hand-made, hand-done so it can lead to some complications,” Coffey said as friend and fellow scare actor Hope Steen helped Coffey put her antlers on. “They’re actual antlers I superglued to a headband,” Coffey said. 

Coffey’s character, who she named Wendy, was originally supposed to be a wood nymph but that did not go to plan. Her character shifted down a darker path, taking inspiration from a creature from Appalachian folklore.

The hardest part about being a scare actor is “figuring out your groove and how to scare people. Your movements, your mannerisms, everything matters and everyone has a different fear,” Coffey said. 

“The best part is when you actually figure it out and are able to scare people,” Steen said.

The giant Grim Reaper that towers over guests who enter. According to their site, it is the biggest one in the High Country.

All three of the scare actors said they see themselves continuing scare acting in the future.

“It’s a really good stress relief actually,” Coffey said. “It’s a new way to go out and face your fear.”

Some actors said becoming a scare actor has helped them overcome their own fears.

“I’m terrified of clowns and on my first night I scared a clown. That was fun,” scare actor Jadyn Flynn said. 

There are no age limits for being a scare actor either. Children dressed up as Jigsaw, Chucky and a killer clown can be found running around the fairgrounds.

Non-scare actors also are racing against the clock, ensuring that everything such as props and lights are in place for the haunted house and the trail.

To ensure the attraction is the best it can be aesthetically, scare-wise and safety-wise, Ward said the crew works long hours. They set up during the day and work into the night, scaring the guests. Preparation for the season begins in August.

Ward said his involvement in creating fear attractions dates back to 11 years ago, when his then-wife proposed the idea. Together they traveled the country going to multiple fear attractions to get inspiration. Four years ago, when Ward opened the trail in Todd, North Carolina, he “fell in love with it as much as she did.” 

“It’s a lot of fun to watch people have fun,” Ward said. 

The entrance to the haunted trail at Bloody Pines. (Jenna Guzman)

The attraction features a haunted house which guests must go through in order to reach the trail. The house includes numerous horror themed rooms, with references to different horror movies such as “Saw.” Once one exits the house, they enter the dark forest in which the trail begins. The trail consists of multiple jump scares from the actors, as well as some realistic props, so be prepared to jump into the arms of the person you’re with, similar to Scooby jumping into Shaggy’s.  

With all of the horror movie influences featured in his scare attraction, Ward has never watched one.

Ward said it cost $60,000 out of pocket to create the trail for its first season. Since then, however, they’ve recycled materials allowing the costs to set up each season to be cheaper. When they don’t have to buy as much stuff, Ward said it costs about $20,000 each season.

He said the hardest part about operating the trail is planning for weather while also making sure everything is safe.

“It’s a lot of money when you lose half of your season to rain or something,” Ward said, which is something they experienced during a prior season.“You do the best you can and then you work all week and get rained out; that’s pretty tough.” 

Ward said they lose money every year they do the attraction.

“You go ask any of these guys that’s here, if this thing were to shut down, there would be a bunch of sad people.”

Although the weather and the income is unpredictable, Ward said his future plans for the attraction is to keep growing, give to the community, and offer something for people to do in the fall.

“There’s not a whole lot to do in Boone,” Ward said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I did jump into it.”

Tickets for the haunted house and trail cost $20 for adults and $15 for guests aged 5-12.

Matt Ward (center, black shirt) and his family. Ward runs the attraction with the help of his family and volunteers. (Jenna Guzman)
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