Frightful fun will be in the autumn air on Oct. 27 from 4-6:30 p.m. when the Seventh Annual Halloween Spooktacular Extravaganza comes back to life at the Children’s Animal Center (CAC).
For first-time guests, this free event is located at Fossil Rim’s Overlook area (1789 CR 2009, Glen Rose). Amber Wiedeman created the Spooktacular and is always excited to talk about how it has grown and improved over time.
“The reason we offer the Spooktacular as a free event is that it’s one of the ways we give back to the community,” she said. “You can visit the CAC anytime for free, but this is an opportunity to experience our Halloween atmosphere, and I see a lot of repeat guests from one year to the next. A lot of those people leave donations even though it is free, which helps us do more for our education mission.”
The event continues to overflow with interesting options, hovering around 30 different activities.
“One thing we are changing this year is our Hay Maze,” Wiedeman said. “Instead of just a standard Hay Maze that kids walk through, we’ve turned it into a sack race with burlap sacks. We’ll have at least two rows – maybe more.
There is a certain bat-wielding event that always draws a crowd.
“The Piñata is definitely one of the most popular activities,” she said. “We have one for our big kids and one for little kids. As far as other popular games, both of our bean bag toss events are always busy, as are Pumpkin Can Knockout and the Mystery Box Guessing Game.
“Our goats doing their training tricks are a sight to see, plus you can see a pig bobbing for apples, birds tearing up goodies to eat, and maybe tortoises munching on pumpkins. We’ll have ambassador animals like snakes, scorpions, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and many more that you have to see for yourself.”
As compared to early installments of the Spooktacular, the action is more consolidated into one area now, plus it gets started earlier in the afternoon.
“I received good feedback last year about moving everything closer to the CAC,” Wiedeman said. “It was easier for the guests to see everything that we had to offer, especially our arts and crafts that our education department runs, so it was more likely that kids were able to participate in everything if they wanted. Moving up the time gave us more daylight, plus the guests who sign up for the Discovery After Dark tour have time to experience everything at the Spooktacular first.”Face Painting is a well-known option among the arts and crafts available, but Wiedeman thinks the education team might have some new surprises in store.
Sara Paulsen’s Story Corner is an aspect of the Spooktacular that has really taken off.
“Sara’s Story Corner was a hit as soon as she started it,” Wiedeman said. “I always ask her to do it again, and Sara is excited about it. She’s a fantastic volunteer, and the kids love it.
“It’s more than just stories; she has people dancing. If we had a house band for the event, that’s the type of energy that Sara brings.”
For adults and older children at the event, there will be some Corn Hole boards set up.
“The games are for everyone because we’re all children at heart,” she said.
If the Jack-o’-lantern Carving ever goes away, there will undoubtedly be some disappointed animals.
“Whatever pumpkins or melons we have left over, we will distribute to the animals at the CAC, the IMA (Intensive Management Area) or to any of the other animals our animal care specialists believe would be interested,” Wiedeman said.
While the Spooktacular is held on Oct. 27, there will actually be a bake sale fundraiser in front of the Nature Store that starts on Oct. 20 at 10 a.m.
“The bake sale is sort of a countdown to the big day,” she said. “The funds raised from the goodies we sell mean a lot to our efforts to improve the CAC, plus the bake sale is an opportunity to tell more people about the Spooktacular so they can join the fun.
“Last year, the funds went toward the tortoise yards. We are revamping that area with a garden to feed them, plus we are making the secondary perimeter structure sturdier. We are still discussing the goal for funds raised this year. There are always actions we can take to revamp and improve the CAC for the benefit of our guests.”
There will be a Discovery After Dark tour that night from 6-9 p.m., and it begins just a few feet away from the Spooktacular. It is $35 per person, and reservations are required. In fact, there is also a Discovery After Dark tour on Oct. 26 from 6-9 p.m., and these are the last tours of their kind until April 2019.
“The Discovery After Dark tour has been hosted by our education department even before we began the Spooktacular,” Wiedeman said. “It’s a chance for you to learn about some nocturnal species and then go through the park with a red spotlight to see what the animals are up to after hours. If interested, be sure to book that one in advance.”
In terms of a coordinated effort, the Spooktacular is one of Fossil Rim’s premier examples of teamwork.
“I’m impressed every year with how much we all pull together for this event,” she said. “Not just the staff, volunteers or interns – it’s all of us and I was really happy to see how quickly people signed up to work the event this year.”
The improvement of the CAC area is a fluid situation that never stops.
“Quite a bit has changed in the past year,” said Wiedeman, who is Fossil Rim’s Purchasing Officer but also continues to work in the CAC weekly as an animal care specialist. “We added new animals like black-footed cats and improved our Attwater’s prairie chicken area, so hopefully we get some of them back in there soon. Like I said, we’ve got new ambassador animals, and the viewing window has been great for guests to see them all the time so that we can continually educate about them.”
Wiedeman is proud of what this fall event has become, and nothing makes her happier than hearing when people enjoy it.
“First-timers and repeat guests were telling me how much they love the event, plus the staff tells me they enjoy themselves,” she said. “My goal is for everyone to have a good time; that’s what a Spooktacular party is about.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate