Quogue Wildlife Refuge’s Spooky Walk Celebrates 20 Years Of Scares

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An army of volunteers—more than 130 at last count—is making preparations over at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge for the arrival of an unusual assortment of creatures.The volunteers, who include a diverse group of individuals, from local students to longtime residents, are busy making spooky backdrops and haunted caves to ensure that the refuge’s 20th annual Spooky Walk will be the largest and scariest production thus far. Other volunteers will soon find themselves donning creepy costumes and hiding in the wildlife center’s expansive forest, while their associates will be charged with the chaotic task of directing visitors to parking spaces.

“This will be our biggest Spooky Walk yet,” said Marisa Nelson, program director of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge, explaining that this is the first year that the event will be held on three separate evenings—Saturday, October 19, Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. each day.

Those brave enough to go for a stroll in the woods as part of Spooky Walk, which serves as the refuge’s second biggest fundraiser, trailing only its annual summer benefit gala dubbed a “Wild Night for Wildlife,” will experience approximately 40 minutes of terror while navigating the walking paths surrounding the Old Ice Pond. Overhead lights will provide Halloween ambiance while chainsaw-toting mummies and their partners in crime do their best to scare visitors.

Visitors should not be surprised when they encounter “witches and pirates roaming around the premises,” according to Ms. Nelson, who also noted that some volunteers have been known to “dress in wet suits while hiding under the bridge.”

“Good screams is all we want,” Ms. Nelson said, laughing.

She explained that staff members are expecting roughly 600 people each night, and that figure does not include the estimated 350 people who will be enjoying the refuge’s Enchanted Forest, a Halloween-theme event that caters to children age 7 and under, and takes place during daylight hours. The Enchanted Forest will be open from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 19, and from noon until 3 p.m. on Sunday, October 27. Unlike the Spooky Walk, the Enchanted Forest will feature friendly creatures who call the woods home, as well as face painting and a bouncy house.

The Spooky Walk is an important revenue-generator for the refuge, which no longer receives state funding and is now overseen by the Southampton Township Wildfowl Association, a nonprofit organization. Last year’s event raised approximately $12,000 for the refuge.

But, as noted by Ms. Nelson, Spooky Walk would not be possible without the refuge’s dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. She also gave credit to Michael Nelson, her husband and the director of the wildlife center, and three environmental educators—Tonito Valderrama, Brendan Dickson and Renee Allen—for keeping things running smoothly.

“It’s a production,” she said, “and we would like as many volunteers as possible.”

Jamie and Chris Osborne of Westhampton Beach said they started volunteering about eight years ago when their middle son, Patrick, now 16, began donating his time at the refuge. The entire family, which includes Patrick’s two brothers—Ryan, 17, and Benjamin, 14—began volunteering for the Spooky Walk the following October, with Mr. Osborne serving as the swamp monster, Jamie as a ghoul and their three kids as pirates.

Mr. Osborne, who is the ordinance inspector for Quogue Village and also serves as 3rd assistant chief of the municipality’s fire department, still dons his wet suit each October to scare those souls who dare to cross the refuge’s bridge.

As for Ms. Osborne, she oversees operations at the Death Cafe, the second stop on the tour. “I tell [visitors] to stay on the path or else my ghouls will come and bring you back as dinner,” she said.

She explained that both she and her family volunteers because they enjoy visiting the refuge and, like others, want to do their part to give back to the educational institution. “[It’s] for the love and assistance of animals, as the refuge no longer receives funding as it used to,” Ms. Osborne said. She later added: “It’s something I enjoy doing.”

Tickets are $15 for the Spooky Walk and $10 for the Enchanted Forest, and reservations are strongly recommended. Those interested in buying tickets can either call Ms. Nelson at (631) 653-4771 or stop down at the refuge during normal business hours.

When asked if there are any surprises for this year’s Spooky Walk, Ms. Nelson smiled slyly before stating: “I can’t tell.”

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