The Ottumwa Courier

October 24, 2013

Spooky, not scary

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Ottumwa Park is morphing into a Halloween adventure for people of all ages.

“We’re not trying to make people scream,” said Cindy Kurtz-Hopkins, fundraising coordinator for the community service agency First Resources of Ottumwa. “The Haunted Hay Ride is family entertainment, the scenes, they’re Halloween-themed but not ghoulish; that is, they’re not too scary.”

There are plenty of horrifying events in Ottumwa already this Halloween, she said. Saturday's First Resources Haunted Hay Ride is a gentler form of fun.

“Before, we used to participate in the haunted house — that was there to scare people. But now we only do our Haunted Hay Ride. We don’t touch people, we don’t get in their faces. They stay on the hay rack, go from scene to scene and are entertained. The scenes are for families,” Kurtz-Hopkins said.

And yes, she said, there is hay on the hayracks. But they use tractors to pull them. That’s for safety, because while the scenes themselves aren’t designed to make you scream, volunteers have discovered firsthand that horses can get “spooked” any time, Kurtz-Hopkins said. One year, they might have startled upon the approach of the Headless Horseman. The ride hosted a pirate ship another year. And for one Halloween, there was a giant spider.

This year, there will be 10 scenes. With about 10 actors per scene, the event requires around 100 volunteers. But even with the 600 expected visitors, there’s not a long wait, Kurtz-Hopkins said.

“We have four hay wagons,” she said. “Nobody wants to stand in line for a long time.”

First Resources is a community service organization that supports people with disabilities and provides substance abuse treatment, services for children and mental health counseling. These days, they serve more than a dozen counties.

Funding comes from multiple sources, including private donations.

“We ask the community to participate, to support the services that First Resources does,” Kurtz-Hopkins said. “The majority of the scenes are done by staff of First Resources, and it sounds corny, but this is a way we give back to the community, because it is a lot of work. It also raises money for our individuals.”

So what are the themes for this year’s Haunted Hay Ride scenes?

Hopkins laughed and said, “You’ll just have to come and see!”

The event runs from dusk (around 6:30 p.m.) to 10 p.m. Cost is $5 per person. Load up at Ottumwa Park’s Jimmy Jones Shelter.

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark