In 1993, the venture that would eventually become Markoff's Haunted Forest began modestly as a haunted bus ride that visited area. Brothers Matt, Nick, and Alex Markoff conceived of the haunt as a means to raise money for their goal of starting an outdoor educational summer camp.
In subsequent years, the haunt was relocated to the grounds of the Markoff family farm in Dickerson.
"I didn't know if anyone would come," said Matt Markoff. "I hoped people would make the drive." Markoff's Haunted Forest, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, is now a beloved annual tradition for thousands of area residents. The haunt, which employs hundreds of seasonal employees, includes two trails, a haunted western trail, and a waiting area with bonfires, games, rides, and food vendors. Proceeds from ticket sales fund the Markoff's nonprofit organization, Calleva, Inc, which provides educational activities for hundreds of students every year.
"My favorite part is designing the whole haunt," Matt said. "Most places just tweak the same idea every year. We always do a completely new haunt. This year, for the 25th anniversary, we're doing a big Day of the Dead celebration. In our trails, we have a new circus area, Viking ship, and at one point, you'll actually walk through the body of a dragon. We begin construction in earnest after July Fourth, but we generally have an idea by the end of the year what we want to do for the following year's haunt. I've already got an idea for next year. "
Matt supervises the waiting area while Nick oversees the trails and Alex supervises the Western town.
"We definitely have a lot of repeat customers," Matt said. "I've seen people who came as youths come back with their own kids."
Markoff's Haunted Forest opens for business this Friday. It is open Friday and Saturday for the first two weekends of October, Friday through Sunday on the last two weekends, and on the evening of Halloween, Tuesday Oct. 31. Tickets and more information are available at www.markoffshauntedforest.com.
Field of Screams Maryland, a haunt operated by Steelhead production located in Olney and raises money for the Olney Boys and Girls Community Sports Association, opened for its 18th year of business on Sept. 22. Like Markoff's Haunted Forest, Field of Screams also features a variety of attractions and games.
"The haunted attractions include two terrifying 30-minute walks through the deep, dark, cold woods, a gruesome and gory haunted house and an amazing haunted hayride trip through a massive cornfield where creatures of the night live," said Mike Lado, creative director of Field of Screams Maryland. "Field of Screams Maryland is returning for the 2017 season with a lot of new stations and details, including the all-new haunted house with 13 rooms named the Slaughter Factory, major updates to the two famous haunted trails through the woods, and the Hades Hayride is expected to be the best ever with new stations, sounds and high-end animatronics. "
Field of Screams' design team won A&E's National Haunt Design and Build competition in 2014. Field of Screams Maryland is open every Friday and Saturday and most Sundays and Thursdays through Nov. 4. Tickets and more information are available at www.screams.org.