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.”