The 27th annual SPOOKTACULAR at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is now the city of Jacksonville’s largest family-friendly Halloween celebration. For three weekends this year beginning on Oct. 17 and ending on Halloween weekend, the zoo transforms itself into choreographed carnival of costumed characters and themed attractions.
Amy Hernden is Special Events and Public Relations Supervisor at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens. Special events are fund-raisers for the zoo. She oversees the preparation for events such as Spooktacular by facilitating communications so all jobs are logistically coordinated.
“It takes a whole team of people to put on an event – from our facilities who build and create the sets and their creative team, to our marketing dept. who put together the advertising and purchase candy and costumes. It involves our education dept. who recruit all of our volunteers and of course our development dept. who coordinate all the sponsorships,” said Hernden.
The creative team begin enhancements to set-stages, or Lands of Enchantments, sometime in February. By October the crates holding the sets arrive at their designated areas in a one-way path around the property.
There’s lots to see and do for kids of all ages at Lands of Enchantments. The Fairgrounds have a giant inflatable slide, bounce houses, huge alligator balloons and face-painting.
There’s pumpkin-carving at Charlie Brown’s Pumpkin Patch. Everyone can walk the ship’s plank at Pirate’s Cove. The Kingdom of Far Far Away is a “Wizard of Oz” attraction while another is based on Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Over 100 volunteers per night are recruited through the education dept. to make the event possible. Volunteers pass out candy from seven candy stations or assist guests with rides. Face-painting and pumpkin-carving need more training than a simple orientation.
Main characters require auditions and specialized training. For example, “dancing thriller zombie” is unique to the Land of the Zombies. Spooktacular has evolved into an elaborate production after 27 years, but in the end it is a still a fund-raiser.
It takes a lot of money for the zoo to take care of its animals – feeding and medical care to keep them healthy, Hernden said. Part of fund-raising efforts are obtaining sponsorships. The headlining sponsors for Spooktacular are Chase, who are also Jacksonville Zoo and Garden’s 100-year anniversary sponsor, and Pepsi, who hasve been a sponsor for Spooktacular for several years.
The last special event for Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2014 is ZOOLIGHTS, celebrating the December holidays from Dec. 12 through Jan. 1, 2015, with seasonal performances showcasing regional talent. The special event is in its third year of development for Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and the city of Jacksonville.