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Hayride Requirements:
What to Look for when Choosing a Site
By Link Moser

The most important factor in the planning of a Halloween Hayride is location, location, location. As with a Haunted House or any other retail business, for that matter, your location can make or break your success. When looking for a new location or if you are starting a hayride for the first time, be aware of the factors that will lead to a successful event. Ample amount of land for the event, useable terrain, tolerant neighbors surrounding the location, appropriate zoning, proper area demographics and of course, a workable purchase price.

Ideally, you will want at least 15-20 acres of mostly wooded land to operate a hayride. This will give you enough space for parking, storage buildings and office facilities as well as enough space for your wagon routes. When determining how much space is needed, try to keep in mind the possibility of future expansion. As your event grows, you will need more space to park cars, to expand your hayride network and perhaps to incorporate some add-on attractions such as a haunted house or concession vendors. Don't limit yourself by acquiring only enough land to satisfy immediate needs. Keep the future in mind.

After you've found some parcels of land that meet your size requirements, spend some time analyzing the land. Take a look at the general layout of the land. Is it mostly open fields, light forests, dense woods or a combination of terrain? Is the land mostly flat or are there lots of hills? Are there any swamp or wetland areas? Ideal hayride terrain will consist of a variety of conditions. Flat open fields are great for parking areas and building locations and are best located near the front of the parcel, close to the street and entrance. Mostly level woods are best for the wagon routes. The denser the woods the better. This has a major impact on the amount of light available to your ride and will influence your scene designs. An open field is quite bright during a full moon while in the middle of a dense forest on the same night the conditions are much darker!

A few small hills are okay but a major grade of 15% or more can cause problems for your ride and create a risk for you and your customers. Steep grades can make it difficult for a loaded haywagon to climb and descend, especially if the weather becomes foul. If the land has some steep grades, look for alternative trail routes. Wetland areas are also a factor to consider. It is very difficult to drive a loaded wagon through a marshy area without getting stuck. It can also have a negative, environmental impact on the ecosystem of the area. With enough land available, you should be able to work around most natural objects that would present a problem such as steep grades and wetlands.

When walking the land, keep in mind how you would like to design and construct your trail network. Again, keeping future expansion in mind, determine what "shape" you would like to "adopt" for your trail network. It is a good idea to design several trial routes, as this will allow you to change your hayride from year to year, making it easier to attract repeat business. Having several available trails is also good in case the month of October is nonstop rain and a part of your trail becomes impassible. With trail options you can easily reroute your hayride.

There are several other factors to consider when looking for a hayride location that are not directly affected by the physical layout of the land. Immediate location factors such as road access, available utilities and neighboring parcels need to be considered. You do not want to disturb the neighbors with the sounds of tractors and chainsaw psychos. Nevertheless, be sure to discuss your plans with whomever owns the land bordering your location and get written permission if necessary before you begin. Make sure the public way that provides access to the location is large enough to handle the surge of traffic. Also, be sure any public utilities that you will need are available.

If the location meets your requirements so far, then you need to consider the expanded location factors such as town approval, access from major highways and general demographics. Before you acquire land, make sure to talk to the town officials about permits and zoning ordinances. Determine if you will be able to operate your hayride before you purchase or lease your location. There is no point in going through the financial processes of acquiring the land if the town is not going to let you operate your event.

Consider the accessibility for your customers. Since hayrides are usually found in rural locations, make sure your customers can find you. Consider the use of temporary signs at all major road junctions to direct customers. When searching for a location, consider how close the land is to major highways and roadways. The closer you are to these routes the better.

Demographics are very important to consider when selecting a location. The rules are the same as they are for other businesses. Is the population dense enough to yield a large enough "audience" for your event? Take a look at all the towns and cities that fall in a 50-mile radius of your proposed location. This is your customer base. Make sure it is large enough to meet your goals.

Another important issue is the purchase price. The location and size has a direct effect on the price of the land. However, there are other options available to acquiring land besides purchasing raw land. Leasing or renting land to operate your event has many advantages over purchasing. The only time purchasing land makes sense is when you are planning on building a very large attraction with the potential for year-round use or you have the financial resources to afford such a project and are considering taking up residence at the location. For the rest of us or for individuals starting out, working out a long term lease agreement with the existing landowner is the way to go.

By leasing the location you will be able to pay for the land only when you will be using it and will save money in the process. You may also be able to use some of the on site buildings for storage. Perhaps you can include the rental of their tractors and wagons. The farm owner will not be haying in October and would more than likely appreciate the extra income. When preparing the lease agreement, consult an attorney to insure the agreement is legal. The goal is to work out an agreement that is beneficial to both parties.

The process of finding a suitable location for your hayride involves many factors including sufficient size, ample amount of useable terrain, tolerant neighbors, appropriate zoning, proper demographics and a workable purchase price. It is very important not to overlook any details when making your selection. Finding the right location can make things a lot more enjoyable and can greatly enhance your success. Your location has more impact on the success of your event than any other single factor, which makes it extremely important to select the best available property to locate your hayride.

Link Moser is the co-owner/operator of Windhill Farm Haunted Halloween Hayrides in Loudon, New Hampshire. hayrides@windhill.com

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