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Frighteningly Educational Program Receives High Honors

educational program receives high honors
Pictured, left to right, are: Daniel J. Bernier, Director, Union County Division of Park Planning & Environmental Services; William Zagorski, 10, of New Providence, one of the key volunteers who staff the Haunted Hayride program; Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski; and Tim Hill, Chairman of the NJRPA Awards Committee.

Elizabeth, NJ-The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced today that its Haunted Hay Ride has been awarded the New Jersey Recreation & Park Association Excellence in Programming Award.

The County received the award on Tuesday, March 4, at the Awards Dinner Program during the NJRPA Annual Conference at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City.

“Our program was honored with the Excellence in Programming Award in the Special Event category, and it truly is a special event,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “The Haunted Hayride is a unique, interactive way for families to have fun and learn about history. I was extremely proud to accept this award on behalf of Union County.”

Accepting the award with Freeholder Kowalski were Dan Bernier, Director of Park Planning & Environmental Services, and William Zagorski, 10 years old, one of the Haunted Hayrides’ most enthusiastic volunteers.

The Haunted Hayride concept began in 1995 as a candlelight historical tour of Deserted Village located in the Watchung Reservation. That one-night program was open to 25 participants.

The program’s popularity grew and eventually evolved into the Haunted Hayrides. The first hayride took place in 2002, and all 300 tickets sold out. The Haunted Hayrides now take place over three days on the weekend before Halloween. As many as 1,000 people get to enjoy the show, and tickets consistently sell out.

Visitors board a tractor-drawn haywagon with the ghost of David Felt, the man who built the town of Feltville in 1845. During the 25-minute tour, Felt’s ghost tells pieces of the area's history, intertwined with stories of the Village's mystery and tragedy, many of which come to life through costumed characters and special effects.

“The Haunted Hayrides wind through the Deserted Village of Feltville, deep in the Watchung Reservation. It’s very dark at night – except for the torchlit cemetery and encampments of colorful characters,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “Everything shown on the ride is a real event from history. We change it every year, so there are always surprises. After a good scare or two, we warm up with hot chocolate. Our Parks staff and our many volunteers make the Haunted Hayride unforgettable fun.”

Last year's program included 12 scenes or special effects, including a Revolutionary War skirmish, a coven of witches, a circus, a wake for David Felt’s deceased wife, terrified Trick-or-Treaters and a construction site accident with severed limbs and electric shocks.

Over 55 County staff and volunteers are utilized each of the three nights to produce this program, serving as costumed characters, special effects operators, registration and parking control, and backstage support. About a quarter of the volunteers are children and Boy Scouts, and some adults come from as far away as Massachusetts and North Carolina to take part.

The New Jersey Recreation and Park Association is a statewide, not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the parks and recreation industry, enhancing the professional development of its members, and advocating sound public policy and stewardship related to parks, recreation, resource management and leisure services. Its membership includes parks and recreation professionals from the municipal, county and state levels; representatives of firms that design parks and recreational facilities or supply recreational equipment; and practitioners of therapeutic recreation.