By Stephanie Choate
As Halloween approaches, ghouls and ghosts will once again emerge from between the moonlit branches of the Haunted Forest.
“This year, the theme is a haunted carnival,” Managing Director Lizzy Fox said. “Like a spooky, ghostly carnival that’s been condemned to woods.”
Each October, more than 400 volunteers—actors, costume designers, pumpkin carvers, technical crew and more—transform the trails at the Catamount Outdoor Family Center into the largest and longest-running outdoor theater production in the state. By night, the Catamount Center becomes a spooky, sprawling outdoor haunted house, complete with nearly a thousand eerily glowing jack-o-lanterns and a slew of Williston residents-turned-ghouls.
Kathleen Porter and her husband, Devin—longtime Halloween enthusiasts—have volunteered at the Haunted Forest since they moved to Williston three years ago. Starting Thursday, Porter will shed her ordinary appearance and turn into several macabre characters over the show’s three remaining days.
“We both really love Halloween,” Porter said. “We love dressing up and the spooky nature of it … we don’t like the bloody gory Halloween, more the fun, spooky ghostly Halloween.”
The Haunted Forest fits the Porter’s vision of Halloween, with an emphasis on family and fun rather than grisly horror scenes.
“It’s a great way to get into the Halloween spirit, first of all, and a wonderful way to go out with your family,” Porter said. “You bundle up and get some hot cider at the concession stand, and it’s just a great fall event.”
Along with returning favorites, including the Pumpkin King and Brothers of the Forest, a number of unsavory characters will join the cast this year, including a carnival barker and a fortune teller with “questionable means of maintaining a long life,” Fox said.
Attendees are admitted into the Forest in groups of 20 to 25, then escorted through a series of spooky skits along the dark forest paths by a “silent, creepy guide,” she added.
“We rely a lot on the serenity and darkness,” Fox said. “We’re in the depths of night out here at the Catamount Center.”
This year marks the 10th year at the Catamount Center and the 32nd year since the Haunted Forest began at the Green Mountain Audubon Center in Huntington. Despite having to cancel the Haunted Forest’s opening night on Oct. 20 due to stormy weather, Saturday night was packed, Fox said.
“The Haunted Forest really is a Vermont tradition,” Fox said. “If you haven’t been to it, you’re really missing out on a key part of fall.”
The Haunted Forest is set to run from Thursday, Oct. 25 – Saturday, Oct. 27. Showings are at 7, 8 and 9 p.m. on Thursday, and 7, 8, 9 and 10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $12.50. There are children’s matinee shows on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. for $8.50. For more information or tickets, visit www.thehauntedforest.org.