What a perfect atmosphere for a fall excursion, the first hint of frost gilding the bare branches of the forest, dry leaves crackling underfoot as visitors walk the park trails, seeing wildlife that remained scarce during peak visitation times, and the campfires providing needed warmth as well as fellowship!
Several years ago, as the story goes, a few families, looking for a safe and fun experience for their children, began camping at Lincoln State Park over the Halloween weekend. Their favorite Indiana summer camping spot was draped in the browns and golds of autumn, and now they had the place almost to themselves. The park employees brought home-made treats to share, and as the years went on, word spread, and more people chose to camp the final weekend in October.
The main road of the electric campground, which was barricaded for two hours to allow children plenty of time to trick-or-treat and view their neighbors festive site decorations, which became more elaborate each year. Eventually, the campground was filled to capacity, not one, but two weekends each October, and the event was added to the official calendar of events. For several years, half of the sites were reservable, while the other half were rented on a first-come first-served basis. With a 14 night stay limit, competition was fierce for prime campsites, some families paying 14 nights’ stay to ensure their children would be able to trick-or-treat at the park. More recently, Indiana’s state parks have gone to a more user-friendly, online reservation system, which affects all of the campsites, so anyone hoping to come in Friday night would likely have to stay in a primitive campsite, without the amenities of electricity or a modern bathhouse.
Extra staff are assigned to work the weekends, to assist with the large number of campers, and employees spend days preparing goodies for the campers, then using the shelterhouse nearest the electric campground those Friday and Saturday evenings to dole out hundreds of fresh-baked cookies, cups of hot apple cider, and popcorn to the families. Some years, professional storytellers have been hired to share ghost stories with interested ghouls, superheroes, and other costumed youths (and the young of heart), but apparently that has been stopped due to state budget cuts.
In a time when most Halloween stories told about our communities are restrictive, discussing unsafe trick-or-treating areas or costumes, it’s wonderful to experience an ongoing tradition at Lincoln State Park, begun by members of the camping community, and embraced by the park management and staff.