‘Haunted Hike’ hunts for help

Mercury Bowen, Contributing Writer

The Douglas-Hart Nature Center is seeking volunteers for the seventh annual “Haunted Hike” on Friday and Saturday.

The event will be a Halloween celebration including a hike filled with costumed characters on the center’s trails, a hayride and a campfire.

According to Jennifer Tariq, the center’s education director, it takes 100 volunteers each night to make the hike happen, with Eastern being the biggest supplier of volunteers.

All ages are welcome to volunteer, but an adult must accompany youth under 13. Families, groups, couples and clubs can sign up to volunteer together. To volunteer, those interested can contact Dakota Radford, volunteer coordinator and educator, at (217) 235-4644 or email her at [email protected]

“People appreciate what they do so much,” Tariq said. “We get the public asking (questions) like ‘Can’t you do this every weekend?’”

Tariq said positions available for those who would like to volunteer include dressing up in costumes to “haunt” the trails, supervising refreshments or admissions or driving tractors for the hayride.

The hike attracts more than 700 visitors on average. Radford said it has sold out in the past.

The theme for this year’s hike is “Invasion.”

Tariq said that the theme title is intentionally vague.

“This is probably the most secret we’ve been,” Tariq said. “I mean ‘Ghostbusters’ last year was pretty obvious.”

Radford said when choosing a theme, the staff looks at what sort of characters or ideas are popular that year, while also choosing a theme that allows them to be creative.

She said they also make sure to choose a family-friendly theme.

“We don’t want to limit ourselves to sticking directly to a very defined theme,” Radford said. “Our alien invasion allows us to really explore aliens from ‘ET’ to ‘Men in Black’ to little green men and everything in between.”

Radford said the staff also takes input from the community into account when selecting themes.

“Our alien theme has been long requested by some of our volunteers and Haunted Hike visitors,” Radford said.

Tariq said the Douglas-Hart’s strongest mission is to get people to visit the center.

“For some people, it’s a Halloween theme to get them out here,” Tariq said. “We try to find a niche for folks.”

Tariq said though the hike is intended to scare, it is still enjoyable for all ages.

“There are definitely some scary things, but it’s not like going to a true haunted house,” Tariq said. “You’re still going to see scary masks and you’re still going to see parts and things, but in the end it’s very family-friendly.”

The center also offers a daytime hike that will begin while it is still light outside, so those who are not as comfortable walking in the dark may still enjoy the hike.

According to Tariq, one of the scariest years was the zombie-themed year.

“We had some zombies crawling out of the prairie, so they were totally hidden in the tall grass,” Tariq said. “So I think that was a kicker.”

Tariq started the Haunted Hike seven years ago, and she said it has only grown over time.

“It’s definitely our most popular event,” Tariq said.

The Haunted Hike is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Admission to the event at the door is $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 3 to 11.

Mercury Bowen can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]