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Shaver’s Creek’s Fall Harvest Festival links Halloween to the natural world

LingYu Deng, age 2 of State College, tries out pumpkin bowling during the Fall Festival at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center on Saturday. The even featured pumpkin carving, face painting, music, entertainment, activities, natural history programs, food, and the Children’s Halloween Trail.
LingYu Deng, age 2 of State College, tries out pumpkin bowling during the Fall Festival at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center on Saturday. The even featured pumpkin carving, face painting, music, entertainment, activities, natural history programs, food, and the Children’s Halloween Trail. For the CDT

Penn State junior Matt Gerarde turned into “Somber the Scarecrow” Saturday.

He walked to the front of a trail at Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center and froze in position.

When a group of kids approached the trail’s entrance, Gerarde’s character came to life.

He was a guide for the Children’s Halloween Trail at the 27th annual Fall Harvest Festival.

The theme was Halloween Continuously Inspires the Natural World.

The mission was for kids to learn about nature at Shaver’s Creek through six stations — with a Halloween twist.

The trail was organized by Recreation, Park and Tourism Management students taught by Doug Wentzel.

Wentzel said one class helped assemble the stations and market the event, while the other class found a way to incorporate Halloween into nature education.

Students dressed as wizards, witches and mad scientists as they taught kids and their families about the life of toads, bats, worms, plant life and other insects.

Senior Michael Innes was dressed as a wizard at the trail’s first station.

Assisted by classmates Justin Brown and Madisen Plunkert who were dressed as a toad and toadlet during the demonstration, they taught kids about the growth of a toad, and that those same amphibians could be found at Shaver’s Creek.

“You find something new at each station and the students have it scripted,” said Shaver’s Creek Director Mark McLaughlin. “It always makes it interesting when you’re participating and have to go off script or improvise when a kid does something unexpected, but you still need to keep in character. It’s a lot of fun and allows the students to get experience in the meantime.”

A dress rehearsal was held the week before, McLaughlin said.

And what makes the trail unique is there’s a new theme every year.

“You can come five years in a row and never see the same thing twice,” McLaughlin said.

The festival is student- and volunteer-run and attracts about 1,500 people on a weekend, said organizer Brian Sedgwick.

It also included pumpkin carving, face painting, live entertainment, nature activities, natural history programs, food and more.

“We try to hold it annually the week before the Halloween weekend and make it an event for everyone,” Sedgwick said.

But there might be obstacles to go through when preparing for next year’s event.

McLaughlin said the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center will undergo an expansion and construction of classroom and office space.

“We’re looking ahead already and trying to see where events will have to move to if necessary,” McLaughlin said. “That’s already in the back of our minds.”

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