Kersey Valley outdoors attraction began with a dare

Flight Captain Roy Turner ziplines into the Atlanta tower at Kersey Valley in Archdale, N.C., Saturday August 31, 2013. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

Flight Captain Roy Turner ziplines into the Atlanta tower at Kersey Valley in Archdale, N.C., Saturday August 31, 2013. (Bruce Chapman/Journal)

ARCHDALE, N.C. — The Kersey Valley outdoors attraction facility in Archdale got its start on a childhood dare.

In 1985, owner Tony Wohlgemuth, then 15, and some friends were camping in the barn on the 65-acre farm on Kersey Valley Road.

The six boys created a light source by attaching an old chandelier with iron spikes to a drop cord, hanging it above them, then running the cord through the window of the nearby old farm house for power. But the cord came loose and the chandelier almost hit the boys.

Wohlgemuth went into the house to turn the power back on and another friend took a dare to go upstairs, not realizing that bats lived there.

“One landed on his back and was crawling up his neck,” Wohlgemuth said.

Within three weeks, the friends and four other boys created a haunted house, charging $2 a ticket.

“We’ve been going in that same house for 28 years in a row,” he said.

But, today, Kersey Valley, which is operated by Wohlgemuth and his wife, Donna, is much more than that small five-room haunted house.

Kersey Valley Spookywoods, which consists of the haunted house and four other areas, runs on select days this year from Sept. 13 to Nov. 2. The main attraction for Spookywoods is an abandoned Christmas tree farm.

“We’re one of the most unique haunted attractions in the country because we use the canopy of those trees as the largest section of our haunted attraction,” said Elizabeth Penn, a spokeswoman for Kersey Valley. “So the Christmas trees actually saved the farm.”

Maize Adventure, a corn maze, was created in 2001. The Wohlgemuths initially focused on field trips, marketing to schools within a 50-mile radius. Later, gem panning was added to Maize Adventure. The newest features include giant jumping pillows and Hop-A-Long-Rodeo inflatable horses.

Kersey Valley then added outdoor classrooms such as Planting Seeds of Knowledge and Bee-Educated Field Trips, where children learn about planting and bees.

In 2010, Kersey Valley expanded into a year-round business with a 1.5 mile zipline tour across the farm. A zipline consists of a pulley suspended on a cable mounted on an incline. The cable is usually made of galvanized aircraft material. A person holds on to the pulley and is propelled by gravity, zipping from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable.

Kersey Valley Laser Tag, an outdoor tactical laser tag attraction, started in 2012.

The zipline is Kersey Valley’s most profitable attraction. It takes folks across 14 lines and 10 sky towers above the corn maze and through the woods.

Penn declined to give exact numbers but said that zipline sales rose about 26 percent last year compared with 2011.

Wohlgemuth said that the attraction draws folks from throughout the state.

When he first decided to design a zipline, he did a business plan, looking at the locations of most ziplines and found they were in the mountains. He decided to advertise in areas around the state that have mass populations and high income levels, telling folks they didn’t have to drive far and could make a day trip instead of a weekend trip to zipline at Kersey Valley.

“That has worked,” he said. “A lot of our business is from the Cary and Raleigh area,” he said.

The year-round events have helped Kersey Valley reach an attendance of 100,000 the past several years. About 1,000 people attended the first year.

Wohlgemuth recently repurchased 10 acres of the original 65-acre farm that his father bought in 1979.

“We need that extra acreage because we want to build an event center,” he said. “That’s going to be for parking and an event barn.”

The new venue would be for such events as corporate meetings, parties, prom dances, weddings and reunions.

He plans to start two 5-K themed runs next year that will go through the newly purchased wooded area.

Kersey Valley also has an adult attraction called Dark Circus, a Halloween costume event for ages 21 and up that is held the last Friday and Saturday in October. Dark Circus includes bars, a freak show from Canada and aerial acrobats.

“We bring in all these tents and entertainers from around the country,” Wohlgemuth said. “This will be our second year doing that.”

He said that all attractions are targeted at a different age group.

“We’ve got something from literally strollers to wheelchairs,” he said. “We cover every demographic.”

The toughest times over the years have been Kersey Valley’s dependency on weather, particularly for the corn maze.

“Last year, it was hot,” Wohlgemuth said. “This year, it’s been very wet. We were delayed by six weeks getting the corn planted, so it’s still growing.”

Jerry Yarborough, city manager for Archdale, called Kersey Valley a great entertainment venue for folks who like different outdoor activities.

He said that the corn maze and other events help bring people to the local community who buy fuel and meals and stay at hotels.

“They’ve been a good community asset,” Yarborough said.

David Mandt, a spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, based in Alexandria, Va., said that the zipline industry has had explosive growth in recent years.

“Typically the ziplines take advantage of beautiful, natural terrain, and they are growing all over the world,” Mandt said. “There’s a big trend in Latin America towards the growth of what people are referring to as eco parks where guests can experience natural but also combine it with a really cool zip-lining activity.”

Halloween continues to grow in popularity in the attractions industry.

Mandt said many parks have Halloween events, including Carowinds, and that there are many stand-alone haunted attractions such as Kersey Valley’s Spookywoods, corn maze and Dark Circus.

The haunted house was the only main event at Kersey Valley when Kevin Clodfelter of Winston-Salem visited the attraction years ago.

“None of this was here,” he said of the new events. “The whole family can come and do all kinds of stuff.”

He was there recently on a hot day with his wife, Annamarie, his son, Alex, and family friends, Alexis Pittman and Josh Sink.

“It was high noon and it was hot, and we got lost, which is probably the idea,” Clodfelter said of the corn maze. “It was fun. We asked for directions twice.”

Credit: The Winston-Salem Journal