A “merry-not-scary” good time returns to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium this week.
The annual Boo at the Zoo opens Friday with plenty of Halloween activities ready to entertain folks young and old. Boo at the Zoo will be open from 5 to 9 p.m. each Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday during the final two weekends in October.
“Being out on the grounds during the event, we do attract a lot of guests who may not necessarily come to the zoo throughout the rest of the year, because of all the different attractions that we do offer during the event,” said Alec McWilliams, experiential logistics coordinator for the zoo. “You can’t really meet the Ninja Turtles anywhere else in Central Ohio, especially during Halloween, so we really attract a different crowd, which is great, because they can come and enjoy the event, but also walk around the zoo and learn about all of the amazing animals that we have here.”
On Tuesday, employees were busy adding the finishing touches on several displays, including Pumpkin Junction located in the North American section.
“We’ve got a lot of different attractions throughout the entire zoo,” McWilliams said. “Pumpkin Junction is one of the bigger ones that we have here. We’ve got about 300 ‘funkins.’ … Beyond the North America region, we’ve got Frogwortz Wizarding Academy in the Asia Quest region with lots of different magical things going in there.”
Jessie Motz, a seasonal employee in her fourth year at the zoo, is the creative mind behind the “funkins.” The self-taught artist has carved a majority of the pumpkins that have been displayed in Pumpkin Junction over the past three years. She said she spends about two hours carving each pumpkin, which are adorned with figures of zoo animals.
McWilliams said actors from the Otterbein University department of theater and dance will be participating in Boo at the Zoo, particularly in the Frogwortz Wizarding Academy.
“They’ll be teaching kids how to use a wand and how to do their first spell to kind of really get into that magical spirit over in that area,” he said. “Otterbein is actually doing three things with us this year.”
In addition to the wizarding activities, Otterbein students will appear in the Pumpkin Junction Best of Show performance in North America and tell spooky stories during the hayrides offered during Boo at the Zoo.
McWilliams said the most rewarding aspect of staging Boo at the Zoo is the joy the event brings to the many visitors.
“One of my favorite things is the first Friday of Boo at the Zoo, just seeing all the little kids dressed up in their costumes, running around the zoo,” he said. “It really hits home that we do a lot of work for that reward of knowing that we’re making lots of families happy.”
According to a press release, this year’s Boo at the Zoo will feature more events and attractions than any of the previous editions. Following is a list of the activities scheduled over the next two weekends:
• Batman, Wonder Woman, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Meet and Greets around Conservation Lake.
• Story time with Spookley the Square Pumpkin at My House at Habitat Hallow.
• Pumpkin Smash animal enrichment activities throughout the day.
• Animals on Safari “Howloween” live show.
• Pumpkin Junction, featuring the Pumpkin Junction Express train ride through Vertebrate Village, hayrides, pumpkin displays and presentations, Magical Pumpkin Seek-N-Find, the Oak Ridge Bears Halloween Hoedown and more in the North America region.
• Sweet Stripe Stable Hay Maze.
• Spooky Diver Demonstrations in Discovery Reef in the Shores region.
• Frogwortz Academy Open House and Wizardry Wand-O-Wand classes in the Asia Quest region.
• “Happy Family 4-D” playing daily at the Shores Park 4-D Theater.
• Candy Corn Carousel rides on the 1914 Mangels/Illions Carousel.
• Candy stops located all over the Zoo.
• One final journey into the Jurassic Period on the Dinosaur Island boat ride before it closes for the season.
The meet and greet schedule is available on the zoo’s calendar page at columbuszoo.org. All events are subject to the weather and could change.
Contact Andrew Carter at 740-413-0900. Follow him on Twitter @DelOhioEditor.