The haunts must go on.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused chaos and endless cancellations in 2020, but one show that won’t be stopped is the annual Mill Pond Haunted Hayride. This year, though, it’s the Mill Pond Haunted Drive-Thru.
“We were trying to figure out how we can do this without putting people next to each other and having people wait in lines together,” said organizing committee member Kenny Johnson. “We hope they people get some entertainment. We hope we scare some people.”
This year’s event, which takes place 7-11 p.m. Oct. 15-17 and Oct. 23-24, is the sixth edition. On a typical run, the show involves tractors pulling hay stacks, with guests sitting next to one another on hay bails. That doesn’t work so well in an environment where a contagious, and for many people dangerous, virus is spreading quickly.
So instead of taking safety risks or just flat out cancelling, the organizing committe got creative. In 2020, Mill Pond Haunt guests will be able to remain in their own vehicles. And at a cost of $25 per carload, they can take a 1 mph drive around the pond and see the 20-some sites at their own leisure.
The road will be lit up with tiki torches and some extra illumination where needed, meaning vehicles can shut off their headlights and take in the spooky scenes. Vehicles will be space about a minute apart, and, at the recommended speed, the show should take about 10 minutes. Guests will be encouraged to put their windows down for the best view and to hear some of the sounds coming from the show.
No doubt, it’ll be tougher to scare sitting in the comfort of one’s own vehicle, and the hayride atmosphere will be missed, but organizers are doing the best they can with altered circumstances, and they’re confident the show will be a worthwhile trip for individuals and families craving something to do.
“We think it’s going to be an attraction,” Johnson said.
Johnson is part of the Nicollet County Trails Association, the lead organization in putting together the haunts each year. The association is joined by numerous other nonprofit organizations, and they all split the fundraising money at the end. This year, the dollars could be especially meaningful.
“… we hope it helps out all of the volunteer groups that support us,” Johnson said. “We’ve heard from a lot of groups that they’ve had a hard time with fundraising, so we hope that this can support them a bit.”
When the St. Peter City Council approved assistance for the event, Councilor Shanon Nowell noted its importance in the community, especially this year.
“My experience with this event is that it’s just great,” Nowell said. “It’s wonderful to have something like this at the council that brings some fun and normalcy to the people of St. Peter during these difficult times, and I’m really grateful for their attention to safety and COVID. I’m personally really excited about this.”
City Administrator Todd Prafke noted that the organizers do a good job managing the event.
“We provide some cones and things for them, but they’re pretty well self-contained,” he said.
It takes more than 50 volunteers to put the show on each night. And while there is no need for tractor drivers this year, additional volunteers will be needed for traffic control. Volunteers are also used as actors, ticket givers, runners, lighters and more.
“It takes our whole group to get it going,” Johnson said. “We are the Nicollet County Trails Association, but we have other groups that help that we share the money with. If we didn’t have the other groups helping, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”
The efforts have paid off over the years. After a somewhat makeshift inaugural edition, the Haunt has only grown over the years. In fact, organizers estimate that an additional 500 people have attended each year. In 2019, the number was over 2,600.
It’s different this year than it’s even been before, and oranizers hope it’s bigger than ever, too.
“We don’t want to send any kids home with nightmares,” said Johnson, “but we hope it gives a good Halloween experience for everyone.”