Sunny, beachy Honeymoon Island State Park isn't a scary place during the day. But take a stroll through the picnic area after dark and you'll stumble upon a cemetery and funeral parlor. Dare to pass through gates wrapped in cobwebs and you can walk a haunted trail winding through the Western-themed ghost town of Deadwood.
No need to ask for directions. Just look for the undertaker's sign.
"We've been building props since June," said park manager Pete Krulder.
This 15th Annual Halloween in the Park features two haunted areas — one scary, and one not so much for younger visitors and the squeamish.
Props on the haunted trail are so authentic they could have been plucked from a Western television set.
"We revised some of the Western props from the past but have made lots of new stuff," said Monika Partridge, administrative assistant at the park and the brains behind Halloween in the Park. "This is something different for the family. It's kid-safe, inexpensive and scary, but not too scary."
The props are both humorous and ghoulish. Check out the barbershop that seconds as a dentist office and the crazy barber, who moonlights as a dentist.
Stop by the bank, which, according to Krulder, will probably get robbed a couple of times. There's also a livery stable, Sheriff's Office and the Rattle Snake saloon, full of card-cheating customers. Don't get caught in the street when a gunfight (with cap guns) breaks out.
Hear piano music? A ghostly piano player looks right at home in Deadwood.
The eighth-of-a-mile haunted trail is an easy stroll — unless you step off into the quicksand pit. It's make-believe too, and put there in the name of having fun in the park at night.
"It's a good family activity … and the chance to see the park in a different light. People don't always get an opportunity to see the park at night," said park services specialist Karen Malo, who has worked the event for eight years.
Deadwood has an abandoned mine, but be careful! Those boxes stacked at the mouth of the mine are plainly marked TNT. The town also has a working mine created by the North Pinellas Women's Club. Twists and turns in a darkened tunnel lead to the final exit. Peek into the sluice box just outside with its running water separating gold from dirt. Look but don't even think of pocketing a gold nugget or you could wind up on the gallows with its hanging noose.
"We'll have sound effects outside the abandoned mine," Krulder said. "The active mine is a dark tunnel but with enough light for someone to find their way. At the same time, we have blind corners."
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For those who like their frights on the lighter side, the South Pavilion in the picnic area has been transformed into the "Little House on the Prairie," the not-so-scary haunted house. There's even an escape door should a child walk partway through and decide he or she needs to bolt.
Halloween in the Park also offers face painting, games, Halloween-themed arts and crafts, music, freeze dancing and storytelling by the Dunedin Library. Fortune-telling, a bungee jump, dunk tank, a climbing wall and a gigantic slide will all be set up near the playground area.
Games will require tickets. The amount varies. Ten game tickets are included in the $10 donation fee per car. For this evening event, annual park passes are not valid.
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Each year's Halloween in the Park is sponsored by the Friends of the Island Parks. It is a Citizen Support Organization — groups that raise money and support the goals of state parks. Friends of the Island Parks support the Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island state parks.
"In the years past, they've bought us beach wheelchairs, computers and projectors, and the money helped pay for our radio system," Krulder said. "We just finished our new limitless playground that had a price tag of almost $125,000. Friends of the Island Parks raise money through events like this one, and the money stays right here."
Other people help make Halloween in the Park happen, too. This was Catherine Palm's first year volunteering.
"This is great," said Palm, of Clearwater. "I helped clean up the area. I loved it. The people here are wonderful and I definitely want to come back next year."
The Countryside High School Drama Club will provide actors this year. Volunteers from Sun Lake Key Club, Palm Harbor University High School Honor Society and Dunedin High's ROTC are helping out.
"We made about $9,000 last year," Krulder said. "We had about 4,000 people come through."
Everyone involved is hoping to break that record this year.