A group of young people dressed in Halloween costumes
Volunteers from Ponca High School National Honor Society prepare to scare attendees to the 18th annual Hallowfest in 2016. Photo courtesy of Cassandra Stowe

Community event brings attendees from across the nation

Leaves falling each autumn means many different things for Nebraskans each autumn.

For residents of Ponca and the rest of Dixon County in northeast Nebraska, it means Hallowfest in Ponca State Park.

The two day event includes haunted hayrack rides, pumpkin carving and rolling contests and campfires with s’mores. 

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, event organizers adjusted the 22nd and 23rd annual Hallowfests’ attractions.

“It was a little different than what it has historically been,” Ponca State Park Superintendent Scott Oligmueller said. “We had to take precautions to keep everybody safe.”

The haunted hayrack ride remains as Hallowfest’s most popular attraction with tickets selling out within 30 minutes most years.

However, due to the pandemic, the hayrack ride underwent some of the largest modifications of any of the events’ attractions.

“We have had to go to a haunted drive-thru,” Oligmueller said.

In a normal year, attendees buy tickets and pack onto a large truck for a frightening experience.

For 2020 and 2021, the organizers modified the attraction.

In lieu of the hayrack, attendees drive their own vehicle along a haunted drive-thru.

For the haunted drive-thru, organizers allotted time for 240 vehicles through the ride both weekends of Hallowfest.

Oligmueller said most members of the community said they were happy to just be able to attend the event in 2020.

Oligmueller also emphasized that the community welcomes people from all across the nation to Hallowfest

“We’ve had people from as far as Florida,” Oligmueller said. “Mostly from all over the Midwest, people come to this event.”

In addition to being a fun event to attend, volunteers from the community help Ponca State Park make the event happen each year.

“Our high school here, they usually send out their One Act and NHS kids to help put on skits,” Oligmueller said. “There are different Boy Scout groups that come out and help with skits…We get a lot of community support and help from volunteers.”

One former volunteer, Ryan Bentz of Jackson, remembers volunteering at Hallowfest with a smile.

“We were in a big blow up tunnel that the hayrack would go through,” Bentz said. “We would jump out and scare people. It was a lot of fun.”

As a volunteer from Ponca High School National Honor Society, Bentz said he sees the value the event has for his community.

“It’s a good deal for everyone to come together and be social,” Bentz said. “Hallowfest–it is basically just bringing the community together.”

Preparing for his sixth annual Hallowfest as a superintendent at Ponca State Park, Oligmueller said he hopes the event continues to be a successful community tradition.

For the more details, including a full schedule, visit outdoornebraska.gov.

Ethan Petrik | Senior | Sports Media & Communication, Broadcasting Ethan Petrik had worked in print journalism at the Sidney Herald in Sidney, MT and The Grand Island Independent in Grand Island, NE. Currently, Ethan works as an on-air host and board op at 93.7 The Ticket where he is known as Big Sky.