NORMAL — Despite a price increase, Normal's Haunted Trail will continue to deliver a fun and/or scary value for kids and adults alike, officials say.
"We're changing admission from $1 to $2, but we still allow free admission with a food donation" for the first weekend, said James Wayne, assistant director of business and recreation for the Normal Parks and Recreation Department. "We had not increased admission 10 years back, and we want to be able to keep providing the same experience and enhancing it."
This year's 23rd annual trail still uses a quarter-mile of Constitution Trail — starting at the City Hall Annex and ending at Connie Link Amphitheatre — but it includes more themed areas for kids Oct. 18-20, a more "in your face" scary weekend Oct. 26-27 and, officials hope, even more costumed volunteers.
"A challenge we heard in years past was that the characters took the time to get in costume and makeup, but you couldn't see them, so we're adding more lighting for the family weekend," said Wayne.
The trail's end will still feature free face-painting and hot chocolate. Up to 1,600 attendees can visit each night, from 6 to 8 p.m. during family weekend and 6:30 to 9 p.m. during the scary weekend for teens and adults.
"We're also increasing the scariness of (the second weekend): darker, more props and interactive components, and then continue to offer an area back through the woods after the amphitheater connection," said Wayne. "We want to make sure people get that haunted house vibe with characters jumping out of the woods. ... That's an important part we're trying to bring back."
Wayne said the spooky event has expanded over the last few years but still breaks even for the town, thanks in part to a legion of dedicated volunteers. Wayne said officials shoot for 100 each night, some not in costume.
An introductory meeting for volunteers is 5:30 p.m. Monday at Connie Link.
"It's not just about handing out candy. It's about having a positive disposition, acting the part and having a great rapport with children," said Wayne. "We're always looking for more volunteers."
The town also has a stable of volunteers from local groups, including new addition Spread the Magic, an Illinois State University student organization that aims "to help bring joy to children and those disabled by performing as their favorite characters and spending time with them."
Bryan Renfro, a longtime trail volunteer, said he always looks forward to helping even though he's "not a big Halloween nut." He usually patrols the trail to make sure attendees are behaving and hands out hot chocolate.
"One of the things we tell everybody is to say, 'Monsters, monsters go away' when they don't feel safe," said Renfro. "Things change every year, but every year it's smooth and fantastic.
"Everybody's just having fun and trying to help out. ... If they're doing it 10 years down the road, I plan on being there."