WALLINGFORD — October 2 is a little less than two months away.
That’s when Wayne Barneschi, the mastermind behind the long-running Trail of Terror, hopes to resume a beloved pastime — spooking trail walkers in the dark of the woods on North Plains Highway.
It would be the Trail of Terror’s 26th year. Whether the trail and other local haunts, including the Haunted Graveyard at Lake Compounce in Southington, will be able to open is unknown.
Health guidelines and restrictions meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 will still be in place when they plan to open.
The pandemic isn’t the only challenge. The Trail of Terror also was not immune from the punishing winds that Tropical Storm Isaias brought when it pummeled the region Tuesday. Crews are simultaneously building new sets and clearing the trail of fallen tree limbs and other debris left behind by the storm.
One large tree fell on the trail’s centerpiece attraction — a vintage carousel from a Caldor department store.
“It took the brunt of a huge tree,” Barneschi said. “So we lost a piece of history.”
Barneschi may use the damaged carousel as an homage to a classic horror movie trope, the abandoned carnival.
“The more dilapidated it looks, the scarier it is,” he said.
“We’re trying. We’re doing everything we can to make it work,” Barneschi said, adding there is still uncertainty as far as public health guidance.
“We’re still waiting for the final say for October,” he said. “We’ll see what’s happening throughout the state. Once we know that we will figure out which areas that we need to work on.”
Barneschi and other haunt operators have been leaning on each other for guidance on social distancing and other COVID-19 related precautions. One thing is certain, the spooks will be less in-your-face than in year’s past.
“We’ve been working with other haunts around the country. It’s the same protocol for everything,” Barneschi said.
Operators will also need to share opening plans with local health officials for approval.
Barneschi and other haunt operators have pages of health guidelines to work through. But Barneschi thinks, based on his trail’s two-acre size, it’s in a good spot. They are planning to install more than 30 scenes.
“There’s a lot of room to work with. We should be fine,” Barneschi said. “We’ve suggested for a few of our people that have health issues, to just take the year off. We don’t want to take any chances.
“We’re going to cut back on our staff. Normally we’d have 200 a night,” he added. “But we’re going to have to cut that way back.”
The costumed actors will likely be wearing masks and shields of some variety, Barneschi said. The trail crew will look to keep crowds thin and spread out.
About 20 miles away, on the Southington-Bristol line, the Haunted Graveyard fared a little better in the storm. Only one tree fell across the entire site, said attraction owner Ernie Romegialli.
Romegialli said a decision on whether to open the Haunted Graveyard this year will come around Labor Day.
“We’re really not sure yet,” he said, adding safety plans would need approval by the local health department.
“We hope we can open. We want to do it right. We want to make sure it’s safe for everyone,” he said.