One thing not to fear about this year’s inaugural Halloween events in Boulder and Whitehall was failure. Organizers of both — “Big Rock Fright Nights” and “Screams Come True,” respectively — were pleased with how things went and plan to make them even better next year.
“It was a very successful start to what we want to make an annual event in Jefferson County,” said Bruce Binkowski, the county’s events planner. “If you look at the overall experience, all the hard work to set it up, I think it was well worth the effort and it’s a great start.”
“We had no idea what to expect,” said Ginger Kunz, a volunteer for Boulder’s event. “We tried to get the word out and let everyone know about the event. Then when people showed up with their families and had a good time, it felt like a success.”
Both events were held the nights of Oct. 18-19 and Oct. 25-26, Boulder’s at the county fairgrounds and Whitehall’s in the community center. Binkowski estimated nightly attendance for both was 150 to 200 people.
"We were really pleased with the attendance,” he said, noting its steadiness was one sign of success. Others included no “major glitches” occurring and that “everybody just seemed to enjoy themselves,” whether children coloring crafts or teens and their parents walking the scary maze built at both locations.
“When people would walk out of the maze [in Boulder] we would ask, ‘So, what did you think? How was it?’ And we always got positive feedback from the people who walked through,” Binkowski said.
Boulder’s maze was filled with Jefferson High drama students dressed in their Halloween best.
“They did a great job and they’re all talking about coming back next year,” Binkwoski said.
In the works for about a year, Binkowski said the events were intended to give locals a “feel-good” time and businesses an economic boost.
Volunteers were key to pulling off both events, which Binkowski described as “very labor intensive.” Volunteer-led committees in both communities met for months to plan, gather decorations and more.
“I would say that Screams Come True was a huge success,” Elizabeth Pullman, who coordinated Whitehall’s volunteer effort, wrote in an email. “We had just under 1,000 people in attendance I believe, according to ticket sales; we also had many many people go through a second and third time to see everything they missed before.”
Pullman noted that attendees came from throughout the region: Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Helena, Dillon, Ennis, and “many, many” from Bozeman and Belgrade.
“We even had a group that droze all the way from Kalispell to see the [haunted house], and contacted me non-stop to make sure nothing (weather, etc.) was making the [haunted] house get cancelled,” Pullman wrote.
“Amazing” was how Kunz described Boulder’s event.
“The most memorable part was all the volunteers that showed up day after day to help set up and then to work during the event,” she said. “It would not have been successful without all the work they put in.”
In putting on both events, the volunteers and county staff started from scratch, Binkowski said.
“We had no idea how it would all develop,” he said. “We talked about it and worked on it for almost a year and when the dust settled … we learned what worked, what didn’t work, [and] how we can improve.”
Lessons learned include to better schedule volunteers and to improve sound and lighting.
“If we did it exactly the same way next year I think it’d be very successful,” Binkowski said. “But we’re going to do different things to make it even better.”
A few days after the last night, Binkoswki didn’t yet know how much money each event took in but was confident that “we’re not going to lose any money and any money that was made on it after all the expenses will go into next year’s event.” He also planned to visit with local businesses to assess whether they saw a boost.
It’s too soon to tell whether either or both events will be sustainable, but Binkowski said they’ve committed to holding the events for at least three years.
“We’re just trying to figure out where we go from here,” he said. “But you don’t start something like this and just say, well, it was nice, and forget it. You have to build on it.”
Kunz plans to volunteer again.
“I have ideas for a hay maze next year and a few other things,” she said. “Collecting creepy and cute things all year, working alongside some amazing volunteers, and watching families have fun together — the whole experience was great.”
“Plans for next year are already underway [in Whitehall],” wrote Pullman. “We need to find a new location, so that will be first priority and will lead to how much bigger and better we can make it. We're upping the ante for next year, so everyone should definitely put it on their October to-do list and prepared to get scared.”