In 2002, then Oconto Jaycees Vice President Lara Nichols saw a magazine article about a haunted trail for kids that was entirely lit by pumpkins. She had a meeting with fellow club member Jennifer Marquardt, and the discussion began regarding running a haunted event the next year. “We can totally do this.”; “The Jaycees are known for their haunts!!” and “Remember their haunt when we were kids?” Lara’s parents gave the OK to use their land (the woods, the barn, etc.) and the initial concept for Trail of Terror was born. This is our story.
For the first 3 years of T.O.T., the members of the Jaycees planted and grew nearly an acre of pumpkins for carving, to light the trail. While Lara wanted to use power tools to carve “2 eyes and a mouth”, Jennifer had better ideas. She enlisted friends and family and they spent an entire weekend each season prepping and intricately carving pumpkins. The pumpkin carving “sweat shop”, as it was affectionately known, was short lived, as the group found out that milk jugs gave off more light and wouldn’t get moldy (or get eaten by the deer!) as the haunt season progressed. Eventually tiki torches ruled the woods! What started as a means to light the entire trail, has now become strategic locations of the tiki torches so as NOT to give off too much light. We have a very talented staff member who created her own metal version of the tiki torch, and those flimsy metal cans? Please…mason jars retrofitted with wicks and filled with off-road diesel fuel (which is red, did you know that?) are all you’ll see on our trails now.
The Nichols’ Farms are located north of Brookside, WI, on County Hwy J, and they are a full time working farm. The trails that you wander during Trail of Terror are used for in a multitude of ways throughout the year. Primarily the trails serve as a way to move lumber and sap buckets, but in September, the Annual Humans V Zombies Adventure Race takes place. All 120 acres are utilized in order to complete the 5K fun run. See their full event description on active.com!!
2003 was the first season for Trail of Terror. The trail was ½ mile in length, and 25 volunteers manned the 4 stations. Many worked multiple areas during each night! We borrowed every single costume, mask, and most props, totaling 4 totes full of items, including 2, yes 2 tombstones!! Looking back, we thought we were so badass! But hey, you have to start somewhere, right? We now have a few variations of the trail that are around ¾ of a mile in length, taking the guests around 30 minutes to complete. Our staff has 12 “full-time volunteers”, and the Skeleton Crew numbers are 100-125 each year!!
The funny thing is that our staging and props really haven’t become sophisticated over the years. We realized long ago that props don’t scare people…people scare people. Seems pretty simple, but there are a number of factors that we deal with, that indoor haunts don’t.
- First and foremost, we are an entirely outdoor haunt. We are at the mercy of Mother Nature. We have special names for her when it rains…If you run into any staff on a rain-out night, you’ll hear exactly what they are.
- People are naturally afraid of the dark. They just are. Add in some creepy shit like cross dressers, Satan, and clowns, especially ones with chainsaws, and they will announce all sorts of things, like the fact that they just pissed their pants. We like the fact that we can see you and you can’t see us, until you know, you’re like, RIGHT THERE!!
- It’s a woods people. There’s like sticks and mud and critters. We get slightly annoyed when you bitch because your pretty white shoes just got ruined. Sorry. Not sorry.
- We don’t have to worry about the inspector shutting us down because our electrical stuff isn’t up to code. There are creative ways to get power out in the woods that we completely geek out over. Our policy is Safety First! We want you to have an epic good time, and that is only possible when everyone follows the rules.
- We have to put you in a group, with a tour guide. We really like you guys, and we want you to come back year after year. So, if you leave in a group of 8, come back in a group of 8, OK? The tour guides are professionals, but they are human, too. We tried the zombie guides, but they just don’t focus, or stay on the trails, or follow directions very well…just sayin’…
- Our staff is 100% volunteers. So are our actors and tour guides. We do this because we are nerds that think scaring the crap out of the good people that pay us their hard earned money is one of the coolest things ever.
Don’t get me wrong, this whole adventure hasn’t been all roses and unicorns. We’ve gone through a LOT of growing pains. What sets us apart is that we have a very diverse staff that keeps evolving over the years. People come and people go, for whatever reason, but that’s OK, too! We struggle with personnel and guests issues (some years more than others), like most haunts around. We’ve learned a LOT!