Hundreds come to wildlife center for thrill

FRENCH CREEK – The old wooden floorboards of the tractor pull creaked as little feet stepped on board for a haunted hayride last weekend at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center.

Near the wildlife center gift shop stood a kiosk of sweet treats and hot chocolate to balance out the tricks of the hayrides. After all, those who climbed aboard for a hayride were in for a spooky time filled with several tricks and more than a few screams.

Guests of all ages sat down, making themselves comfortable in the hay-lined wagon. They were among the hundreds of people who ventured out to French Creek Friday and Saturday for the wildlife center’s Halloween-themed events, which included haunted hayrides and on-foot Spooky Night Tours.

In just a few short moments, the tractor’s driver pulled out and its trailer bumped along behind it, abuzz with seemingly excited spectators both ready and willing to be spooked. The tractor followed the asphalt pavement through the wildlife center as colorful trees emerged into view on both sides of the forested path.

“It was very good, very relaxed and very scenic,” John Conton of Leon said. “It was pretty just being through the woods.”

To the left of the path, caged habitats filled with watchful mountain lions, wolves, turkeys and more came into view. Then suddenly, a high-pitched scream for help was heard from behind one of the fences. Between broken cries the word “gorilla” was heard.

Dark fur-covered arms stretched around a girl and dragged her down to the cold ground. For some on board, it was the best part of the show.

“(My favorite was) the gorilla because the gorilla attacked the girl,” 5-year-old Emily Andrew, of Buckhannon, said.

“Whee. This is fun,” exclaimed 2-year-old Abby Gearhart as the wheels of the tractor bed carried passengers onward.

A ghoul of sorts hit the wooden floor of the trailer, causing some to scream and others to laugh. It chased the group until it no longer could keep up, trailing back into the autumn trees. Later, another one crept out from the dark woods. Yet another crawled out on all fours and onto the path, causing many to scream in shock.

“It was spooky and you got to go around the track,” Allison Andrew, 7, of Buckhannon said. “There were ghosts and zombies and stuff. It was scary.”

Off the beaten path sat a grounded hearse carrying an open coffin where more creepy creatures of the dark lingered, waiting. Not long after, the tractor veered around a curve, leaving the haunting path behind it. Finally it came to a stop, letting passengers off.

In the distance, as darkness fell, a flickering light marked the gathering spot to warm up and wait for the Spooky Night Tours to begin.Those took place on foot.

Glow sticks and dim lights led the way as, this time, the pitter-patter of feet sounded through the forested asphalt path. Small groups walked through to meet with the creepy crawlers once more.

Wildlife biologist Gene Thorn delivered the story of Sam Pringle. As Thorn animated parts of the story with sounds and movements, the eerie crunching and shuffling of a bear could be heard from a habitat nearby.