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New Durham hopes to give youngsters a Halloween to remember

THE TRAILS at the 1772 New Durham Meetinghouse may look tranquil now, but the New Durham Recreation Department and Meetinghouse Restoration Committee, with the help of a cadre of volunteers, will soon transform them into the Haunted Trails, infamous for frights and scary sights. The spooky route through the woods is one part of a town-wide celebration of All Hallow's Eve on Friday, Oct. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 31 from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. to be held at the 1772 Meetinghouse on Old Bay Road. (Photo by Cathy Allyn) (click for larger version)
October 22, 2020
NEW DURHAM – Town departments and committees are partnering to bring community youngsters a Halloween they will never forget.

It's been a year of disappointments for many young people, with cancellations of milestones ranging from graduations to T-ball games, but New Durham is ensuring that All Hallow's Eve will be celebrated with a bang.

"Everybody enjoyed it last year," Parks and Recreation Director Celeste Chasse said, speaking of the Haunted Trails held at the 1772 Meetinghouse on Old Bay Road.

"A lot of people got scared and they thought that was just the greatest. They told me it was scarier than they had expected. It was very successful, so this year I want to make it even bigger and better."

Looks like that wish is coming true. The Halloween event will take place on two evenings instead of just one, Friday, October 30 and Saturday, October 31 from 6 – 8 p.m.

And it will include the New Durham Public Library's staff and volunteers as "The Library League," providing the youngest or more faint-hearted residents with the chance to follow the yellow brick road and meet up with the characters from "The Wizard of Oz."

After the Oz section, all of the lions, tigers, and bears can decide if they want to continue on to the Haunted Trails for a scary experience or go through the Meetinghouse to pick up their popcorn and treats, and leave.

"This way we have something for everyone in one spot," Chasse said.

The 1772 Meetinghouse has been the site of spooky presentations for more than 12 years. The original programs, produced by the Meetinghouse Restoration Committee (MRC) and performed by the Merrymeeting Merrymakers, were held inside, then spread to include the Early Settlers' Cemetery, Stone Pound, and the front of the property with Town employees and officials participating in a variety of roles. One year a Girl Scout troop augmented the fun.

The New Durham Recreation Department eventually took advantage of the trail system on the Meetinghouse Park grounds and ran short haunted trails, and over the last several years the Haunted Trails have become a highly anticipated event.

Ample off-road parking, overseen by the New Durham Fire Department and MRC members is available.

Facial coverings, which do not include costume masks, are required, and social distancing will be maintained.

The need for safety is one of the reasons the library has moved its popular Halloween Extravaganza to the Meetinghouse. An outdoor event on the library lawn, attended by the hundreds of people who normally show up, would have presented a challenge to maintain social distancing and not create subsequent dangerous bottlenecks near the street and parking lot.

It seemed a natural shift. "We do so many activities with the Recreation Department throughout the year anyway, it's just like business as usual to be there with Celeste," said Library Administrative Assistant Sheryl Bansfield.

Library Assistant Lisa Nicol said she "can't wait" for the function.

"This has always been my favorite event, and I love seeing the kids dressed up in costumes. I am really looking forward to our first ever outdoor library Halloween at the Meetinghouse!"

She said the townspeople, especially "our kids, need to have a little fun."

At this time, there are no plans for staff to sing 'We represent the Library League,' but "you never know what might happen," Bansfield said.

The Friends of the New Durham Public Library always buy the candy for library trick-or-treaters, and this year members will be working on costumes and helping set up Munchkinland.

"There's a lot to do," Nicol said. "Some of our Trustees will be there, too."

"We're delighted to be able to help out with the Halloween celebration at the Meetinghouse for New Durham's children," said Friends member Joan Goodrich. "We hope everyone has a wonderful time."

"I'm really excited about adding the library to the mix," Chasse said. "Having them here will draw even more people; we're teaming up so it will make it twice as fun."

A lot of work is going into making that fun happen. Chasse has a sub-committee within her Recreation Commissioners and department, and they have been meeting to get things underway.

"Last year was my first time," Chasse said, "so I was getting my feet wet. Now there's even more planning involved in figuring out how to do all of the displays."

She and her committee members have gone through all of the props used last year "to ensure everything works properly" and to "come up with anything else we need."

A lot of brainstorming is going on to keep the scares fresh along the quarter mile way.

Chasse said she still could use some volunteers to donate candy and to act as "trail scarers," especially on Friday evening. "Greatly appreciated" props or candy donations can be dropped off at Town Hall or the library.

Resident Scott Goodspeed said he got involved in the haunted trail project as a volunteer last year with his wife and son.

"We've always really enjoyed Halloween and were thrilled to be a part of the event. This year, as part of the Recreation committee, I'm excited to help Celeste make the trail even better, and scarier, than last year."

He said the group is looking forward to a big turnout and hopes "everyone has a frightfully good time."

New Durham School faculty member Alicia Hernandez said she was glad to see the town pulling together to "have something for the kids to do because it's been a tough time for them."

The Halloween event is truly drawing from all elements of town life. In addition to departments uniting for the Halloween bash, Chasse has had donations and financial support from businesses and individuals, and Conservation Commission member Ron Gehl and Town Administrator Scott Kinmond will be lending their voices to the library's production.

Kinmond said he was "happy" to be participating as an actor.

MRC members are thrilled to see townspeople using the area, citing that the field for parking, lighted by the NDFD, large open spaces, creaky old building, and marked wooded trails make the park the perfect place to hold a town-wide event.

Clayton Randall, a descendant of the founder of the First Freewill Baptist Church and preacher at the Meetinghouse, Benjamin Randall, has participated in the building's restoration project since the 1980s.

Through the years, he has also used his personal equipment to clear the parking area, trail system, and grounds.

"We are so lucky to have the town's foundational building on its original site," he said. "Many activities have occurred through the years; it's a great place to have Halloween activities and a great way for the town to get involved."

Member Robin Bickford also has ties to the building, joining the committee because the Meetinghouse "meant something" to her father-in-law and, along with her love of history, she "wanted to do something for the community."

She said, "The Meetinghouse belongs to the community and it's such a unique place for plays, dances, and parties."

Ann Kelley, former member of the MRC and a Merrymeeting Merrymaker who performed at Christmas events at the Meetinghouse, is also the mother of an Eagle Scout who did his major project there.

"It's great that the town is using the facility," she said. "It's such a wonderful asset to the community and should be promoted."

Randall asked fellow residents to help make the Recreation Department's two-evening event a success. "This Meetinghouse deserves all of our support."

Chasse does not want to give anything away, but trailblazers might expect sections of the route to be invaded by witches, zombies, and mummies. "We've been working on different ideas," she said.

Another aspect of both evenings is a 50/50 raffle, with tickets selling for $1.00 each or six for $5.00.

"Proceeds will go toward next year's event," Chasse said.

Police Chief Shawn Bernier has announced that Trick-or-Treat hours for the town are Saturday, October 31 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. Officers will be offering drive-through candy at the police station parking lot to trick-or-treaters in their vehicles.

Treats are also available at the Food Pantry, across from Town Hall, and Berry's Bait, behind Johnson's restaurant.

Guidelines for Halloween this year are available on the town's website at newdurhamnh.us.

"It's a lot of work," Chasse said. "I do a lot of prepping, but without the volunteers, I wouldn't be able to make it happen."

Kinmond said it is "great to support these wonderful collaborative civic events that serve the New Durham community."

"Don't miss out on the fun," Chasse urged, "if you dare to get scared."

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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