A Forest of Doom… in Conifer?


Parker Jones

As the sun disappears, small spotlights illuminate the skeletons and their tombstones. Sounds of cracking twigs and squeaky coffin lids echo from an unseen source. The graveyard near the end of the trail held tombstones with many different inscriptions.

Everything is eerily still. All that can be heard is the pounding rush of a stream and the faint whisper of mountain wind. It’s too silent. Suddenly, there’s a deafening scream. A chainsaw revs. Bright lights flash, and startling yells of “Peekaboo!” pierce the ears. A man in a mask starts to give chase. Adrenaline runs wild. But in a split second it’s all over. You reach the haunted house exit.

  Conifer resident Ryse Bush has set up and hosted an outdoor, kid-friendly haunted trail annually, starting last year. The trail consists of many twists and turns with actors ready to pop out, a beyond-spooky maze, and a take on a “twisted Christmas.” For each weekend of October, a new scene is added to the always-changing maze.

   “I started mid-June and it’s not done,” Bush said. “When I say that, it’s because we keep adding on, so we always will open up a new scene every weekend. So then the path always changes. It keeps people coming back and seeing something different, giving them something to do.”

   In addition to having scenes that are constantly added and transformed, the trail is moved to a new location each year, guaranteeing no repetition for consistent visitors.

   “You want it to be different, you want people to keep coming back and following what you do,” Bush said. “Last year we were off of highway 285, this year we’re at a residence. It gives everybody something to follow.”

   Despite the trail’s newness, Bush has much experience in the business of haunted houses. Also, due to her birthday being the day after Halloween, Bush has always had a passion for the creepy holiday.

   “I would always have Halloween birthday parties, and I love decorating for Halloween,” Bush said. “I worked at a campground when I lived in Michigan, and I did a kids trail the first year, and then we came up with the idea to do a three story haunted house. They were both really successful and a lot of fun, and it just stuck with me. Being able to do everything as artistically and creatively as we do, because we make and build all of our own props, is pretty cool.”

   Unlike many commercial haunted houses and trails, Bush’s setup is completely homemade and the result of community donations. From the “Forest of Doom” signs that can be seen on the side of the road to the trail’s eerie guillotine, nothing is purchased commercially. Even the bridges that cross the property’s stream are hand-built.  

   “A lot of the time [the community] will give us wood, siding, anything that looks creepy and cool,” Bush said. “I was looking for a Ouija board not too long ago, and people were like, ‘Oh, don’t mess with that!’ But it’s for the trail, so it’s all in good fun how we’re using it.”

   This year’s trail also featured a storyline that is slightly reminiscent of an urban legend. Many of the trail’s advertisements have sported the phrase, “Beware the Creeper,” hinting at the ghostly character that haunts the maze.

   “He’s the creeper of the entire trail, so everything links together,” Bush said. “[There’s] the guillotine where he chops off their heads, these are the skulls of the bodies of the guillotine, and the crazy girl’s room, like that’s one of his victims or whatnot.”   

   Throughout the process of owning a haunted house, weather has faced Bush with many challenges. Winds have repeatedly destroyed the tarping around the maze, and they took down a handmade

Ryse Bush poses with her beloved skeletons before the night begins. The decorating process took several months and Ryse had skeletons creatively hidden throughout the trail.

branch railing bordering the creek. The difficulty of finding actors has also proven to be an obstacle.

   “It’s always challenging finding actors,” Bush said. “It’s not that they need to have experience or anything, but just to be able to think outside of the box, and to be able to improvise off of each other and to improvise off of the customers.”

   Playing with the trail’s storyline and their own improvisational skills, actors generally have a great time spooking customers.

   “It’s kind of funny, because people get scared so easily, and you… get to spook them, but you can’t touch them or anything. People will get close to you, and you can get in their face and they’ll freak out,” junior Layla Smith, student and trail actor, said. “Sometimes, people won’t even notice you for a minute, and then [they’ll] look at you and just scream. It’s really funny.”

Skulls, flowers, and vases line the walls of a dead-end room inside the maze, each decoration tying into the story of the overall experience. According to owner Ryse Bush, the skulls are the heads of the creeper’s victims, taken by the guillotine.

  Although the haunted trail has come to a close for the season, there is a chance that Bush will be opening a Winter Wonderland scene this Christmas. No matter what, she will be returning next year for another “Forest of Doom.”

   “[People] come and they have a great time,” Bush said. “It’s screams followed by laughter.”