, Salem, MA

October 24, 2013

For kids, a Halloween walk on the wild side

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — Ghosts and goblins may walk the earth on Halloween night, when tradition holds that the boundary breaks down between this world and the afterlife.

But this weekend, at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary’s Halloween Happenings, visitors can experience something just as amazing.

“They’ll be meeting animals on the trail and the animals will be talking, because this is a special night,” said Rita Gallant of Peabody, who has been volunteering at the sanctuary for 20 years.

The event takes families on an hour-hour long walk through the woods on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, with seven departure times between 6 and 7:30 p.m.

Volunteers in painted foam costumes depicting coyotes, fireflies, flying squirrels and other creatures will be stationed along the trails, where they will introduce themselves and answer questions.

“We don’t want it to be scary,” Gallant said. “We want them to meet these animals and learn something about (their) natural history, the background facts of the life cycle, and how animals actually survive in the woods.”

The event is designed for children ages 4 to 10, and activities will keep families occupied in the sanctuary’s barn before groups are guided out to the trails.

“They’ve got a scavenger hunt inside the barn and a bingo game that’s natural-history oriented,” said Sue Baeslack, education and volunteer coordinator at the sanctuary. “Also a bean bag throw, through the hole in a wooden pumpkin.”

Gallant will play a fortune teller, Madame Zelda, who will read palms and make predictions.

“They’re all good fortunes, such as, you may get a lot of candy on Halloween,” she said.

The Halloween Happening is one of Gallant’s favorite events at the sanctuary, along with maple sugaring, and in the past she has played one of the creatures on the trail.

“They’re always billing me as an insect character, like a glow-worm,” she said. “My favorite would be the luna moth. It’s a beautiful moth, from the giant silkworm moth family.

“It’s nocturnal, like most moths are. It’s not as common as it used to be. It has light green wings and long tails, and the legs are a chartreuse pink.”

The event has been held at least as long as Baeslack has worked at the sanctuary, starting in 1982, and a rotting log has always been one of the most popular characters.

“We can never take him out,” Baeslack said. “We tried to take him out and people said, ‘Where’s the rotting log?’”

The rotting log has been played in recent years by Jim Ryan of Groveland, and he will alternate this year with Tony Salerno of Georgetown.

“It takes a special person to play the rotting log,” Baeslack said. “It’s a big long costume. You lie on the ground inside it like a sleeping bag.”

The volunteer inside wears make-up on his or her face and addresses visitors through a hole in the top of the costume, telling people how rotting logs serve as habitat for salamanders and worms, and have mushrooms growing on their surfaces.

Children are encouraged to wear Halloween costumes to the walks, which end with cupcakes and cider served by a bonfire.

“We encourage them to dress warmly,” Baeslack said. “It does go, rain or shine.”

IF YOU GO ... What: Halloween Happening When: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25 and 26, starting at 6, 6:15, 6:30, 6:45, 7, 7:15 or 7:30 p.m. Where: Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, 87 Perkins Row, Topsfield Admission: $10 per person (adult or child), $9 Mass Audubon members. Advance registration with payment is required. No walk-ins. Information and registration: 978-887-9264.