Thursday evening marked the return of the annual "Spooky Walk" Halloween festival at Clark Botanic Garden. The activity runs on Friday and Saturday from 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. before culminating Sunday in a less frightful "Not-So-Spooky Walk" from 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m.
Just after sunset, the horticultural haven of the garden became a nightmarish landscape of which the plants were not the only living things present. About 80 teenage volunteer actors from Youth for Christ, the Shelter Rock Church, St. Aidan's Church, the Herricks Key Club and BOCES occupied the lantern-illuminated nature wearing a ghoulish assortment of masks and face paint, carrying a devilish variety of props, and conveniently cloaking themselves in leafy surroundings while waiting to pounce on unsuspecting families treading tenderly through the night.
"There is a heavy zombie theme this year," said John Darcy, Deputy Commissioner of Parks for North Hempstead and point man of the event. "We went full throttle on the insane clowns."
Upon entering the arches of "Zombie Town," visitors had the option of taking the "Spooky Walk" path to the right, or venturing left to a "Terror Trail" detour that featured slightly more gore. Some folks didn't make it to the fork before being greeted by a rather large demon. "The first scare is always the worst one," a father said as he tried to coax his daughters farther into the unknown.
As the number of stars increased in the sky, so did the number of people on line. "It started with a medium turnout but it has picked up tremendously," said Mary from East Williston, a witch-outfitted employee working the trail's entrance.
"We hear people saying that they are coming back tomorrow," said North Hempstead Town Supervisor Jon Kaiman, D, who has been overseeing the event since his election in 2004, "so we are expecting a huge, huge crowd."
Families are not the only ones eager to return. One group of zombified veteran volunteers insisted they enjoy returning each year because they "love seeing families come out and huddle together - in fear!"
Despite being in its thirtieth year of operation, the attraction is still evolving. The daylight "Not-So-Spooky Walk" was recently added to the yearly festivities, and "we are trying to make it more of a festival atmosphere by featuring music, food, and on Saturday night we will have stargazing through telescopes," Darcy said. "The goal is to make it fun and scary at the same time."
Admission to the park is five dollars for all ages from Thursday-Saturday, and three dollars on Sunday, with proceeds going to the Town of North Hempstead.