As forests fade from green to yellow and a frosty bite returns to the evening breezes, festive folks don’t have to travel far to find hair-raising horrors that have nothing to do with the state of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The south metro includes several Halloween-themed venues, including Scream Town, in Dahlgren Township; ValleySCARE in Shakopee; and Trail of Terror in Louisville Township.
After a full cancellation of the 2020 event, “we are obviously so excited to bring back ValleySCARE,” said Kelsey Megard, Valleyfair communications manager. “This year has been really special for our team and for our guests too.”
Because Scream Town is outdoors, it was fully operational in 2020, though the hayride pivoted to a drive-through model instead of a shoulder-to-shoulder shared experience. It’s back to closer quarters this year, with a new bog-themed stop on the hayride, said owner Matt Dunn, and he’s “excited to be back to a little bit more normalcy.”
“If you’re comfortable walking through the park, you’re probably comfortable here,” Dunn added.
While some spooky attractions have incorporated the specter of COVID-19, both ValleySCARE and Scream Town have stuck with the traditional boogeymen like vampires, ghouls and ghosts.
“I don’t know if people are quite ready to laugh about it yet,” Dunn said of the pandemic.
The biggest change to ValleySCARE is the continued requirement for guests to reserve a time to visit, rather than just buying an all-day pass. That rule has applied to all visitors to ValleyFair since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s made an impact on the park experience, though that’s not a bad thing, Megard noted.
“It’s definitely changed the dynamic a little bit. Since we opened in 1976, you’ve been able to show up at any time of day,” she said. “It really allows us to manage queue lines... (and) overall it’s made it a better experience.”
Valleyfair has also installed “hundreds” of hand sanitizing stations, Megard said, and while masks aren’t required for outdoor spaces, the park asks unvaccinated visitors to wear masks while indoors at dining areas and the indoor mazes.
While many other industries have struggled to find workers in recent months, Scream Town and ValleySCARE have escaped such woes, management said. Dunn hires around 150 people throughout the season, and ValleySCARE employs around 300 people as “monsters” throughout the park.
“We had a little bit of a bump in hiring, a slowdown” when he first started hiring this summer, Dunn said, “and then out of nowhere we saw a pickup in applications.”
Megard is deeply aware of other industries’ hiring shortages. She attributed ValleySCARE’s luck to its slew of actors that are as consistent as the scares of the park itself: As the park readies for its 14th season, some of the people who will be providing scares have worked all 14 autumns.
“We are actually very lucky, we have a faithful crew that comes back to ValleySCARE year after year,” Megard said. “They just love being a part of this event so much.”
Dunn’s staff are also a loyal bunch, with an enthusiasm for their roles that Dunn speculates comes from the freedom to “develop their own characters and their own scares.” He watches the creative process unfold in the group chat that the actors have.
“It’s fun to see the actors talking amongst themselves online,” he said. “It’s not a Halloween show, it’s a production.”
Imagine a brilliant rainbow of colors spanning red, orange blue and yellow.
All these colors and more can be found in pumpkins, squash and gourds at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s AppleHouse, located at 7485 Rolling Acres Road, Victoria.
John and Jenny Thull, with the Arboretum, are responsible for the wide variety of pumpkins, squash and gourds. This year they planted over 300 different varieties, John said, adding at the time of this interview they weren’t sure yet if all 300 kinds took.
Visitors of the AppleHouse are in luck. Several of the pumpkins and squash grown by the Thulls make delicious additions to a hearty fall meal.
Most fall food lovers are familiar with the classics, such as spaghetti and butternut squash. But what do the growers themselves enjoy eating? The Thulls like the Australian Butter squash and Marina Di Chioggia, a bumpy blue pumpkin that is a great for making gnocchi.
Another of the Thull’s favorites is the Speckled Hound squash. Both as a grower and as a consumer. It sets a lot of nice fruit and has a great flavor and perfectly moist texture, John said.
The harvest will be available in the AppleHouse as long as the store is open, which is typically through the end of November and sometimes into early December. Apples and grapes will also be for sale while supplies last.
The people responsible for naming the varieties were surely creative. Names include the grizzly bear pumpkin, peanut pumpkin, fireball pumpkin and gremlin gourd. A few daisy gourds arranged in a vase would be a unique and beautiful substitute for a bouquet of flowers.
The Thulls enjoy educating people about the huge diverse groups of pumpkins and squash that exist in different parts of the world. At the Arb, the Thulls have pumpkins and squash from all the places where they are able to grow, such as Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and South America.
“There’s so much variety within the pumpkins and squash that most people don’t even realize it. People maybe have seen like white pumpkins and think ‘that’s exotic.’ But as you can see here there’s a whole rainbow of colors,” John said.
But the festive fun doesn’t stop at pumpkin picking. North Star Doughnuts will have its food truck parked at the AppleHouse from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesday-Sunday. The truck offers piping hot apple cider doughnuts, hot apple cider and apple cider slushies.