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Some Halloween festivities are a go, Haunted Hayride canceled

HOULTON, Maine — It will be a Halloween unlike any other for most Mainers this year as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter traditional gatherings.

In an effort to give parents of young children an option for traditional trick-or-treating, the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Houlton Recreation Department, is taking over the event.

The idea for a downtown Halloween event started last year with Bastion’s Tavern owner Emily Harvey, who came up with the idea of a trick or treat activity in Market Square for any businesses or residents who perhaps do not get many children on their streets. Market Square was closed to automobile traffic, allowing children to freely roam to booths set up by local businesses and individuals.

Because Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, the event has been modified from an early evening activity to a mid-day event. Starting at noon, a portion of Main Street will be closed to traffic from the Chamber of Commerce to Market Square.

Any business or individual that wants to participate with a table is asked to register at the Houlton Recreation Department at 532-1310. Likewise, any child participating in the event must also pre-register, as they will be given a designated time they can show up.

Downtown Houlton was filled with ghosts, goblins and many more characters Oct. 31 as part of a trick or treating event in Market Square. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

“We are trying to figure out a way to do it and be in compliance with the state guidelines for gatherings,” explained Jane Torres, executive director for the Chamber of Commerce. “That is why we are asking parents to register their children and not just show up unannounced. We will send kids out in groups of about 50 people.”

Torres said each child will be given a bag to gather their candy in when they arrive at the Chamber building. About 400 bags have been purchased for the event. Those passing out candy must wear masks and gloves, Torres said. Additionally, each child participating must also wear a face covering, even if they have a plastic mask.

“Last year’s event was wildly popular and we need to do things to get kids outside,” Torres said. 

That same night, from 5 to 7 p.m. the Houlton Wesleyan Church is hosting its annual “Trunk or Treat” event at the church parking lot on Kelleran Street. Traditionally, the event begins inside the church, but this year it will strictly be outside.

Pastor Wayne Robertson spoke to Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson to see if the town was going to issue any sort of recommendation for trick or treating as some communities are doing, according to Hollie McAfee, one of the event organizers. 

“She said that it is not banned, but all of the standard COVID precautions are recommended,” McAfee said. “So we decided to go for it, since we haven’t been able to do much with kids since the pandemic began, and this seemed like the easiest of all of our kids’ events to adapt to COVID protocols.

“While it will be different than previous years, it is going to be a lot of fun,” McAfee added. “The entire event will be taking place outside where we will be handing out candy to all children sixth grade and younger.”

Volunteers at cars will be wearing masks and the vehicles will be spaced out to allow for social distancing requirements. Families must wait at one vehicle until the next vehicle is available.  

“We’ll have staff to manage the line, which we expect might be fairly long this year, so that families will maintain social distance from each other,” McAfee said. “After they get their candy, they can leave.”

Individuals who wish to have a trunk at the event should contact the church at 207-532-9056 or register at www.houltonwesleyan.org. Decorating vehicles is encouraged and a prize will be given to the best decorated automobile.

Parents are reminded that the Houlton Wesleyan Church does not allow scary costumes, including clowns.

All volunteers need to register through the website, www.houltonwesleyan.org, as well. Any questions can be directed to Pastor Matt Blackford.

One popular event that will not be happening is the annual Linneus Haunted Hayride. Held over three weekends in October leading up to Halloween, the hayride typically draws more than 1,000 people to the woods of Linneus.

The Linneus Haunted Hayride will not be happening this year. (Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times)

The hayride is the major fund-raising event for the Linneus Recreation Department and also provides area students with an opportunity to earn some money for their respective senior classes and log some community service volunteer hours. The ride is about a mile in length, covering a field of almost six acres, and features many different horror scenes. Zombies and clowns are the most popular characters for the youths who serve as actors on the hayride.

“We as a board have decided not to hold the Linneus Haunted Hayride this year,” said Josh Murchie, Linneus Recreation director. “A lot of time and planning goes into this event every year and with the current restrictions for the state of Maine, even more planning and orchestrating would need to be done in order to provide [people] with a safe place to bring your family and still give you the same thrilling ride you are all use to.”

Murchie added that the board would use the next year to build up and revamp the ride to bring some new thrills and surprises for 2021.

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