Last minute changes and the threat of rain couldn’t stop Ballinger’s first Haunted Forest Halloween festival from being a smashing monster mash success. The low-end estimates of the crowd were 1,500 monsters and characters of varying ages, sizes, and fear-invoking fierceness attended. People came from Winters, Wingate, Miles, San Angelo, Olfen, Rowena and all parts in-between to take part in the successful event.

Ballinger police officer Suzanna Torres, who is also a director on the Chamber of Commerce, pitched the idea to the city council along with Chamber president Tammie Virden. Torres said that the idea just came about during conversation about trunk or treat events one day, “Tammie and I were just talking one day and we got on the subject of a Haunted Forest type Halloween festival. We kept discussing it and then decided to pitch it to the city council. They got behind it 100% and we moved forward with it.” Helping organize it was Torres’ boyfriend, Fred Tuffly from Arizona, “Fred really pitched in and did a lot of work to make this happen. He and chief Maresch did a lot of the work.”

Pretty soon the idea mushroomed into a full-blown community supported event, “Jeff Smith at KRUN was great. We went on the show weekly to update people and he really helped us spread the word. It wouldn’t have been such a success without his help.” The idea continued to gain momentum and support, “Originally there were about 20 trunkers. Then the day of the event 10 more wanted to come out so we let them come set up. The chamber ended up buying 4,000 pieces of candy to help when some of the trunkers ran out and we ran out in the end ourselves.”

There were over 50 displays at the event ranging from a skeleton sitting on a bail of hay watching a video of dancing skeletons to an animatronic werewolf and witch and a ghoulish “pet sematary” set up by Julie Parsons. Displays also included a zombie apocalypse shelter, coffins with skulls and an eye-catching jail display by Kimberly Dunn, Sheriff Carl Squyers and deputy Tito Clemente’ that involved the collective efforts of the jail, dispatchers and sheriff’s office. They even had the 911 phone mascot on hand in case anyone got too scared.

The fest faced several challenges, not the least of which was the Tim Burton-esque west Texas weather of late. On Tuesday the threat of rain caused the venue to be changed from the park to the community center. Originally they were going to use the show area of the center but new insulation was being installed so that idea had to be scrapped. The festival crew worked until about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning in the main area of the community center, fitting in 50 displays and 30 trunker-or-treaters. They were at it again by late morning and people started showing up at 5:30 p.m., which was 30 minutes ahead of the 6 p.m. scheduled start.

Torres and the others involved took into account everyone who might attend, “Safety was the #1 priority. We had to make it safe for the children to make it comfortable for the parents. We had paths that were wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs. Everyone was dressed up from infants to teens to parents. It was great to see. In the end, not one display was knocked over or bumped. It went flawlessly.” The crowd was in a festive frame of mind and the lines kept moving smoothly without delays while everyone got their chance at goodies, games and getting the dickens scared out of them.

It was an “all hands on deck” type of response from groups within the community. The Ballinger Ministerial Alliance gave out hotdogs in exchange for canned food items or monetary donations for the food pantry. The national Teal Pumpkin Project that addresses food allergies was on hand to give out trinkets and items to children with food allergies. Cathy Martinez from the Ballinger fire department built the coffins. Ballinger police chief Stan Maresch, Tuffly and the folks from Tractor Supply Company helped with 80 bales of hay and provided a lot of the manual labor. Landy Cason was instrumental in taking everything down and helping to load it all up when the event was over.

Plans are already underway for 2019 that has been dubbed “Hallowfest”. One idea that is being explored is having a haunted house as well as a haunted forest. With 1500 people showing up for this one, it’s easy to envision 2,000 or more attending next year’s fest, especially if the weather is favorable. The organization and planning were keys and were almost flawless. The expectations for next year will run high but should be met without fail given the work and cooperation that made this event successful.

Torres wanted to thank everyone involved, “Belinda Carlisle led the event. We also want to thank Lola Murchison, Amy Page, Mark Shafer from Arizona, Tractor Supply, Ballinger Ministerial Alliance, Sheriff Carl Squyers, Chief Stan Maresch, deputy Clemente “Tito” Mata, Jeff Smith at KRUN and all the banks and churches that pitched in. We also want to thank the Ballinger City Council for their support.”

If you’d like more information on the Haunted Forest or next year’s event, you can contact Chamber of Commerce president Tammie Virden at 325-365-2333.Last minute changes and the threat of rain couldn’t stop Ballinger’s first Haunted Forest Halloween festival from being a smashing monster mash success. The low-end estimates of the crowd were 1,500 monsters and characters of varying ages, sizes, and fear-invoking fierceness attended. People came from Winters, Wingate, Miles, San Angelo, Olfen, Rowena and all parts in-between to take part in the successful event.

Ballinger police officer Suzanna Torres, who is also a director on the Chamber of Commerce, pitched the idea to the city council along with Chamber president Tammie Virden. Torres said that the idea just came about during conversation about trunk or treat events one day, “Tammie and I were just talking one day and we got on the subject of a Haunted Forest type Halloween festival. We kept discussing it and then decided to pitch it to the city council. They got behind it 100% and we moved forward with it.” Helping organize it was Torres’ boyfriend, Fred Tuffly from Arizona, “Fred really pitched in and did a lot of work to make this happen. He and chief Maresch did a lot of the work.”

Pretty soon the idea mushroomed into a full-blown community supported event, “Jeff Smith at KRUN was great. We went on the show weekly to update people and he really helped us spread the word. It wouldn’t have been such a success without his help.” The idea continued to gain momentum and support, “Originally there were about 20 trunkers. Then the day of the event 10 more wanted to come out so we let them come set up. The chamber ended up buying 4,000 pieces of candy to help when some of the trunkers ran out and we ran out in the end ourselves.”

There were over 50 displays at the event ranging from a skeleton sitting on a bail of hay watching a video of dancing skeletons to an animatronic werewolf and witch and a ghoulish “pet sematary” set up by Julie Parsons. Displays also included a zombie apocalypse shelter, coffins with skulls and an eye-catching jail display by Kimberly Dunn, Sheriff Carl Squyers and deputy Tito Clemente’ that involved the collective efforts of the jail, dispatchers and sheriff’s office. They even had the 911 phone mascot on hand in case anyone got too scared.

The fest faced several challenges, not the least of which was the Tim Burton-esque west Texas weather of late. On Tuesday the threat of rain caused the venue to be changed from the park to the community center. Originally they were going to use the show area of the center but new insulation was being installed so that idea had to be scrapped. The festival crew worked until about 2 a.m. Wednesday morning in the main area of the community center, fitting in 50 displays and 30 trunker-or-treaters. They were at it again by late morning and people started showing up at 5:30 p.m., which was 30 minutes ahead of the 6 p.m. scheduled start.

Torres and the others involved took into account everyone who might attend, “Safety was the #1 priority. We had to make it safe for the children to make it comfortable for the parents. We had paths that were wide enough for strollers and wheelchairs. Everyone was dressed up from infants to teens to parents. It was great to see. In the end, not one display was knocked over or bumped. It went flawlessly.” The crowd was in a festive frame of mind and the lines kept moving smoothly without delays while everyone got their chance at goodies, games and getting the dickens scared out of them.

It was an “all hands on deck” type of response from groups within the community. The Ballinger Ministerial Alliance gave out hotdogs in exchange for canned food items or monetary donations for the food pantry. The national Teal Pumpkin Project that addresses food allergies was on hand to give out trinkets and items to children with food allergies. Cathy Martinez from the Ballinger fire department built the coffins. Ballinger police chief Stan Maresch, Tuffly and the folks from Tractor Supply Company helped with 80 bales of hay and provided a lot of the manual labor. Landy Cason was instrumental in taking everything down and helping to load it all up when the event was over.

Plans are already underway for 2019 that has been dubbed “Hallowfest”. One idea that is being explored is having a haunted house as well as a haunted forest. With 1500 people showing up for this one, it’s easy to envision 2,000 or more attending next year’s fest, especially if the weather is favorable. The organization and planning were keys and were almost flawless. The expectations for next year will run high but should be met without fail given the work and cooperation that made this event successful.

Torres wanted to thank everyone involved, “Belinda Carlisle led the event. We also want to thank Lola Murchison, Amy Page, Mark Shafer from Arizona, Tractor Supply, Ballinger Ministerial Alliance, Sheriff Carl Squyers, Chief Stan Maresch, deputy Clemente “Tito” Mata, Jeff Smith at KRUN and all the banks and churches that pitched in. We also want to thank the Ballinger City Council for their support.”

If you’d like more information on the Haunted Forest or next year’s event, you can contact Chamber of Commerce president Tammie Virden at 325-365-2333.