2020 has been a brutal year. The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a pall over us all since January. It has devastated our economy and revealed weaknesses in every level of government including abject failure at the top. It has broken down social and cultural activities while taking the lives of 230,000 of our people and inflicting long-term suffering on untold thousands of “long haulers.” As I write this, Covid-19 is surging to its highest levels with no end in sight. While the very young among us are not generally impacted physically or dying at the rates older folks are, they are losing loved ones and being deprived of the normal activities of growing up—like going to school, play sports, holiday celebrations. My granddaughter, who is wise beyond her 13 years, tells me, “I love Mom and Dad, but really! 24/7 for all these months !?” Think about it. Our family recently cancelled our annual Thanksgiving dinner for 20 plus at our house—because of Covid. Fran and I fully expected that Reston Association also would cancel the 23rd renewal of the big Halloween Trail at the Walker Nature Center. This family activity always attracts 700 or more. We enjoy attending in costume to welcome children and parents at the Trail admissions tent. We were surprised and delighted when we got the call to do the job this year. I must admit we wondered how Katie Shaw, the person who not only manages the Nature Center but also engineered its creation, could do it safely under Covid conditions? We soon found out. Before the big event, Katie and RA’s longtime volunteer coordinator, Ha Brock, held a virtual training session for Trail volunteers and staff. They had meticulously re-imagined the big event consistent with Virginia policy and CDC guidance to proceed with the Halloween Trail activities and fun, while building in sensible precautions for everyone’s safety.
The basics were simple—all guests required to wear now familiar face coverings; fewer people allowed (300 over two nights vs normal 700) for safe spacing; onsite eating or sharing of food prohibited (guests would get a treat bag of goodies upon departure!); hand sanitizer to be available everywhere; and heavy use surfaces frequently cleaned.
As admissions welcomers dressed up like Spider Lass and a friendly Dracula, Fran and I checked in each pre-ticketed family. After cheery Halloween greetings, we gave each group a pop quiz before entering the activities area, including: have you been exposed to anyone with Covid-19 in the last 14 days, do you have a cough, fever or chills, loss of taste, muscle or body aches, etc?? We were impressed by the close attention even the little ones paid to this process!
The kids were excited, anxious to get to it. They were not only in costumes, but also in character--Wonder Women, Spidermen, Darth Vaders, a huge balloon dragon, a princess or two, and a cool father-son combo of the Man in the Yellow Hat -Curious George. And many more! It really seemed to me that the young ones were especially animated, thrilled to be up to their ears in Halloween fun. And the fun was abundant. Inside Nature House was Dr. Abby Normal, the reimagined Mad Scientist demonstrating her amazing Halloween concoctions, followed by the Troll with its very special bridge! The families then got to meet live creatures up close, including a local snake, turtles and owls. Then there was a self-guided “Creature Feature Trail” of 14 activity areas where guests followed clues and learned about animals that make up much of Halloween’s typical lore like spiders, bats and wolves! Afterwards there was great feedback from families thankful to have had so much fun when so many other things were cancelled. Many people may not have realized the tremendous amount of work that went into planning, organizing, and physically assembling the multitude of moving parts making up the Halloween Trail under uniquely difficult conditions. A tip of the Progressive hat to Katie Shaw and her wonderful RA team! Next up, these same folks invite you to Holiday Greetings on Sunday, Dec. 6 from 1 to 4 p.m. with the Nature Center all decked out for the winter holidays for all ages. Register at www.restonwebtrac.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org