By Liz Kirchner
Barnardsville – In the event that screams “community,” more than 50 volunteers, whole families, church members and friends hosted the Haunted Trail at the Big Ivy Community Center (540 Dillingham Road in Barnardsville) throughout October.
It’s not yet dusk, but there are already screams coming from the darkening woods behind the Community Center.
In the misty drizzle, volunteers are preparing the winding Haunted Trail that will lead visitors staggering and bolting from the creaking, clawing terrors that are living in an old house, stumbling out into autumn woods and a world full of tattered curtains, wandering smashed-face girls, decapitated baby dolls and cackling clowns waving blood-splashed chain saws.
“Close as we can figure it, this is our 13th year,” said Chris Ball, 32, president of the center’s board, as he chainsaws pallets to feed a bonfire blazing in a clearing. “It takes about 40 or 50 people – a lot more than just the people on the Trail. It takes ticket takers, path guides and concession people to put it on and they’re all volunteers. Doing good for the community.”
Doing good for the community, the Haunted Trail is a family affair. Whole families volunteer, bringing friends and children who carry on the tradition to support the center.
“This is our fundraiser for the Fourth of July fireworks,” Ball’s wife, Renee, said. “My husband started and my kids wanted to do it too. So I do it too. It’s fun.”
Undeniably fun, kids, one sporting a startling, oozing slice across his forehead, chase each other through the trees to the fire.
“I’m a bloody man that comes out of a swamp,” Chris Ball’s son, Landon, 7, explains. With him, Elijah Rayburn, also 7, stops to say, “I am a wolf.”
Elora Allen, 16, a Barnardsville native, is a junior at North Buncombe High School. On the Trail, she plays a bloody child taunting visitors, appearing and vanishing into the forest.
“I started when I was 12,” Allen said. “I went through it and laughed my head off!”
Allen, who is a lifeguard at the Big Ivy pool in the summer, says she participates in community events like the Haunted Trail because she appreciates that others had kept the center vibrant when she was a child.
“I remember they did things like a slip-and-slide when I was little. Now, we try to take care of it. We’re trying to build it up and do more for the youth,” she said.
The Big Ivy Community Center, founded in the 70s, now houses a library, health classes, yoga on Tuesdays, a food pantry and a thrift store. The playgrounds, volleyball and basketball courts are open to the public and the pool is open for a fee in the summer. Throughout the year, the center organizes parades, yard sales and a carnival in the summer and gift-giving in the winter.
Nearby businesses like the Barns at Paint Fork music venue, Navitat Canopy Adventures, and Keith Kiser Insurance helped to sponsor this year’s event.
It’s a rainy night, but light is spilling out of the concession stand. Inside, a cast of blood-spattered teens is laughing, talking, eating Doritos and waiting for visitors while fourth-grade teacher Vanessa Hensley, 23, pretty and blonde, is air-brushing on Allen’s make-up, hacking open the latex gash across the girl’s cheek and gluing in lumps of scars.
Like other families, the entire Hensley family is involved in the night.
Dad, Cloud, organized the event for years. Vanessa is painting her zombie voodoo priestess mother, Cathy, black and white, and transforming her brother Logan Hensley, 17, in a tie-dye T-shirt with a 1 Chronicles 16:10 verse on it, into a maniacal clown.
The Haunted Trail at the Big Ivy Community Center is part theater, part art project and costume party.
It is people, young and old, who gather every year to run around in the nighttime woods, raise money and goodwill for the future and enact community.
Leaning on the concession stand refrigerator, in a rubber skeleton mask, Chuck Fisher, 41, a local IT professional and Big Ivy promoter, said, “As a community, everybody holds an important place. Everybody can help. Everybody has different skills and it works best when everybody works together.”
Everyone laughs and nods their bloody heads.