With a spooky history, Ames Haunted Forest opens for 21st year
The Ames Haunted Forest is on land so haunted, no one would buy it.
In 1962, Orville and Bonnie Ballard built Riverside Manor nursing home, which later flooded and was torn down. The property included the area that is now the Haunted Forest.
“The property we’re on is haunted,” co-owner Lynn Ballard said. “When the property that the nursing home was on sold, the buyers didn’t want the forest because of its history of being haunted.
"Some eerie things have gone on."
Iowa State has been listed as one of the Top 5 Haunted Colleges, he said. And there are reasons for that.
“There are lots of stories of things people have seen and heard by Ioway Creek,” Sally Lockhart, Ames Haunted Forest’s creative director, said. “Things like hearing children giggling when no one is there. Lots of odd things.”
The spooky attraction kicks off the Halloween season Friday night and will be open every Friday and Saturday, from 7 p.m. until at least 11 p.m., through the end of the month.
“We will be open until at least 11 p.m., but we hope to have such a big crowd that we’re open until 2 o’clock in the morning,” Lynn Ballard said. “We’ll stay open if we have people in line.”
Orville Ballard owned an excavating business as a profession, but one of his big passions was being a magician, so the idea of offering access to the haunted forest on his property near Iowa State’s football stadium was a fun one, Lynn Ballard said of his dad.
As haunted houses and other haunted attractions come and go over the years, Ames' Haunted Forest has remained, now in its 21st year. It draws around 800 visitors on a normal night and exceeds 1,000 on a busy one.
Visitors tend to come from about a 100-mile radius, Lynn Ballard said, although some travel farther than that.
The site is now owned by Lee and Lynn Ballard, Orville and Bonnie’s sons, who operate the attraction along with many members of their family.
“They pull their family in and they pull the rest of us in like extended family,” Lockhart said.
That extended family includes dozens of Iowa State students hired on as actors to perform the forest's ghoulish and macabre characters.
“We had a rehearsal recently, and the background and the experience are better than they’ve ever been,” Lynn Ballard said. “We tell people: Don’t come alone.”
It takes about a half-hour to get through the forest — depending on how scared you get, he said.
There are areas that will literally make you shake. One spot has a dump truck apparatus underneath the floor to really make it vibrate.
There’s a vortex of eerie lights, a squishy sidewalk, a winding path through buildings and trees and a plethora of scary characters.
“Some people don’t make it through the whole thing,” Lynn Ballard said. “They turn around and come back.”
Halloween is the second-biggest celebrated American holiday, based on what people spend and how they’re involved, Lynn Ballard said.
Want to go?
Location: 1400 S. Fourth St., across the street from Jack Trice Stadium.
Parking: There's room for hundreds of cars in one of the parking lots used for Iowa State football game days.