Red Tape Cancels Coastal Halloween Tradition

This year the maze at Arata Farms is gone. So is the haunted house, the hay-bale arena and the train

By Joe Rosato Jr.
|  Saturday, Oct 26, 2013  |  Updated 12:42 PM PDT
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A Halloween tradition near Half Moon Bay has suffered quite a fright. A farm famous for its hay-bale maze and haunted house has been ordered to remove them. Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

A Halloween tradition near Half Moon Bay has suffered quite a fright. A farm famous for its hay-bale maze and haunted house has been ordered to remove them. Joe Rosato Jr. reports.

A Halloween tradition near Half Moon Bay has suffered quite a fright. A farm famous for its hay-bale maze and haunted house has been ordered to remove them.

Half Moon Bay is famous for its pumpkins, big and small. Every fall its pumpkin patches draw visitors from across the Bay Area.

But just south of town, on Highway 1, Arata Farms has become known for a lot more than just pumpkins. For the last dozen years, in addition to pumpkins, farmer Chris Gounalakis has sown the seeds of imagination along eight acres of coastal farmland.

“Pony rides, petting zoo. We had a haunted house, we had a maze, we had little train ride,” said Gounalakis.

In previous years, the farm’s most famous Halloween commercial attraction was a massive labyrinth constructed of some 10,000 hay bales, guarded by a Minotaur.

“The walls used to be six-feet tall,” Gounalakis said. “You couldn’t see over them, and that’s what I think gave the maze its appeal.”

But this year the maze is gone. So is the haunted house, the hay-bale arena and the train.

The county said Gounalakis’ farm had too many commercial attractions and not enough agriculture. It ordered him to remove the labyrinth and other attractions, leaving just a pumpkin patch. “I just cannot see who this place hurts,” Gounalakis said. “Who does it hurt by having it the way the way we have it?

It’s agriculture, it’s educational for the children, and at the same time they come from miles around just to have fun in our own place.”

A San Mateo County planning official said Friday that Gounalakis had no permits for any of his installations. He also said mazes with walls higher than six feet more were dangerous.

Families showing up at the farm on Friday were disappointed. “We said we would go to the maze, so now I’m going to have to break the bad news to them,” Peter Allison said. “I was so excited because I remember I got lost in the maze for two hours,” Kateri Cuhlow said.

“But then when we came here, it was this, and I can see over everything. So we tried playing hide-and-seek, but we could see each other. “ The county says Gounalakis can apply for permits in the future for the attractions.

For now, even with a small corn maze and pumpkins, he says the 50 percent drop in his Halloween business is a bit frightful.

“Why would people make the trek from so far away to come all the way from hundreds of miles away to buy our overpriced pumpkins?” Gounalakis said. “Other than they enjoy themselves to come out here.”

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