There are people who decorate for Halloween. There are people who recreate a haunted house.
And then there’s Hoot ‘n’ Howl: an entire wildlife park full of spooky decorations, lights, glowing pumpkins, games, and treats. The annual Northwest Trek fall event (this year 5-9pm Oct. 14-15 and 21-22) takes weeks of preparation from almost every single staff member: zookeepers, naturalists, admissions staff, maintenance crew and more. But it’s worth every minute.
Pumpkins and Prep
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s so much fun,” says Jessica, the naturalist leading the event. On a Thursday afternoon one week before Hoot ‘n’ Howl opens, Jessica’s on the floor of a staff meeting room surrounded by spooky decorations: dozens of grinning fake pumpkins, a couple of ghoulish stumps, giant cauldrons, electric candles, string lights, black tinsel, six skeletal trees, boxes and boxes of art supplies and candy, and a massive white spider in a storage tub.
It took five minivan trips to bring it all up from the storage buildings.
“We start about two weeks beforehand,” says Jessica. “It takes all staff – it’s a team effort.”
While the maintenance team puts up glowing lights and bigger structures, and animal care staff decorate their own spaces, Jessica’s role is decorator-in-chief.
From Tombstones to Ghosts
But if it sounds like a decorator’s paradise to have an entire wildlife park as a canvas, there are definitely challenges too.
“Learning how to decorate alongside wild animals is the tricky part,” Jessica says. “Especially the squirrels. They love to steal spider webs to use for warmth in their dens. And of course, the fall rain and wind of the Pacific Northwest can be unpredictable.”
“Northwest Trek is in the middle of the forest so it gets dark out here, really dark,” Jessica added. “If a decoration doesn’t come with lights, I need to make sure those decorations are visible. String lights, glow in the dark paint and spotlights are my best friend during Hoot n Howl!”
Some of the decorations go back decades to when Hoot ‘n’ Howl first began. A series of gray foam tombstones with humorous epitaphs were made long ago. There are still even some of the original inflatables.
It Takes a Team
Of course, the actual event – this year on four nights, Oct. 14-15 and 21-22 – is a team effort. Jessica’s job involves leading the decorations, restocking candy at treat stations, overseeing the many volunteers that make the event happen and generally making sure everyone is having a great time – but many other staff members pitch in.