- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2017

DICKERSON, Md. — Markoff’s Haunted Forest celebrates 25 years this season of scaring for a good cause.

With humble beginnings, the brothers Alex, Matt and Nick Markoff first created a haunted bus event to raise money to start a summer camp.

Their current efforts now give over 30,000 local residents welcomed frights during the Halloween season and, most importantly, continues to help sustain the family’s nonprofit project, Calleva.

The project offers educational activities and camps to learn about the outdoors to hundreds of students each year.

The Haunted Forest experience consists of a pair of trails and a ghost town. However, the night begins as victims walk from the parking lot into the middle of an elaborate Day of the Dead celebration.

Various sizes of lighted skulls adorn nearly every inch of the dimly lit grounds. Themed performers greet guests who are encouraged to hang around massive bonfires, grab a bite to eat, play midway games, try a zip line, watch fire jugglers, and even look over a cemetery amid the carnival atmosphere.

That area is simply a waiting room to hear your ticket number to enter the long, winding trails. The roughly 35-minute strolls through uneven terrain and themed sets will give an average, healthy human a sweaty workout.

As to what is found on the trails, marketing coordinator Miranda Olsen, who actually started at Markoff’s as one of the hundred or so scare actors during the season, says, “Expect the unexpected.”

“Clowns, vampires, witches, almost every fear that anyone could might have is out on the trails,” she says.

Specifically, stop and marvel at the detail in such areas as a complete Viking village with a full wooden ship to cross over as undead Norseman prowl for new recruits.

Or, climb on metal scaffolding over a Mad Max-style arena loaded with post-apocalyptic lost boys banging drums and listening to loud rock music.

For the horror purist, stop by a small church to find a black Mass in process, hosted by a large demon arising over a victim sprawled out on an altar.

Perhaps most impressive this year is a stunning 1920s vintage black-and-white circus.

Also, take note that ghouls roam throughout the trails and literally crawl on the ground and grab at the pant legs of visitors as they walk.

Those who survive the trails can now take a tractor-pulled tram over to a truly creepy Western-themed ghost town.

Visitors first walk through a real cornfield maze with ghoulish surprises before being greeted by a peculiar Sheriff Cooper warning about walking through his territory.

It’s now a gantlet of survival as groups pass through areas such as a general store, butcher shop, town jail, doctor’s office and a house of ill repute.

Expect encounters with a curly haired blond female pleading for help while stuck in a human-sized meat grinder and a guy with the vocal nuances of the “Three Stooges” Curly Joe, daring guests to walk though his torture chamber mortuary.

Overall Markoff’s Haunted Forest truly delivers a wondrous level of imaginative scares for a reasonable price.

It’s highly worth noting that getting to the destination will require driving through a series of small towns, so be aware of perhaps the greatest terror of all, money-sucking speed cameras.

IF YOU DARE GO

Where: 19120 Martinsburg Road, Dickerson, MD, 20842
Fear factor (out of 5): 4.0 for those 12 years and older.
Price range: $25 for town, $30 for trail pass, games and midway attractions tickets $3 each (packs of 10 for $25); add $5 for a Fast Pass ticket (purchased through select are restaurants), discounts available on site for visiting a second trail.
Hours: Friday and Saturdays, select Sundays and Halloween, beginning at dusk. (open through Oct. 31.).
Website: www.markoffshauntedforest.com

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