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Haunted Sawmill ready to celebrate 10 years of fear with COVID-19 precautions in place

Published: Oct. 8, 2020 at 9:49 PM CDT
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MERRILL, Wis. (WSAW) - Ready to open its haunted doors to the central Wisconsin community for its 10-year anniversary season Friday night, The Haunted Sawmill is no stranger to providing the Merrill community with laughs, screams, and scares. However, it goes beyond the Halloween fun.

“The fundraiser started as an idea for a Boy Scout troop that several of us belonged to,” explained Kristin Woller, co-chair of The Haunted Sawmill and vice president of the Friends of Vincent Foundation. “It has since snowballed into a much bigger fundraiser. We’ve got away from just scouting and now we help kids in the Merrill and surrounding communities with any type of things that they need, may it be scholarships; backpack programs that they do in the fall; raising food for the local food pantry. Any youth that needs any type of assistance to obtain something or have a good learning experience, we are out here to fund that.”

This year’s theme is ‘The Spirit of Halloween,’ with Vincent, Candie, Ruby, Buzz Buzz, and the gang all back and ready to frighten customers with some new precautions in place due to COVID-19.

“Like everybody, we’ve had some challenges due to COVID-19,” Woller explained. “We came up with a COVID-19 policy and we’ve been working on that and tweaking it since March.”

That policy includes encouraging online ticket sales to avoid large crowds waiting in line, only sending people through the haunt with the group that they came with, having a designated COVID-19 team wipe down and disinfect the haunt between sessions, and requiring everyone, employees and customers, to wear a mask; no exceptions.

“You can’t be on our property this year without wearing a mask,” Woller said. “I know some people might say ‘I have a medical condition or I have a doctor’s release,’ we’re asking you to mind our policy and then don’t come this year. We will take you back next year, hopefully when we don’t have to wear masks, but everybody, no exceptions, will be wearing a mask this year.”

Woller says that along with the guidelines in place, they’ve been working closely with their actors, all volunteers, to implement new scaring tactics that they can utilize while maintaining 6-feet social distance. She also says the organization has been in contact with the Lincoln County Health Department.

“We’ve been upfront with them from the very start this year that we wanted to put this plan on,” Woller said. “We definitely feel that it’s a partnership between all of our community partners that are out there and we’re very, very thankful for that.”

NewsChannel 7 reached out to the Lincoln County Health Department regarding its involvement in helping The Haunted Sawmill implement safety protocol.

“The health department has received the Haunted Sawmill COVID-19 event plan and had provided current health department recommendations as well as key considerations for mass gathering,” explained Lincoln County Health Director Shelley Hersil via email. “Our recommendations would be that individuals not attend mass gatherings this Halloween. If a person attends a mass gathering, they can come down with symptoms up to 14 days after attending any event. We recommend self-quarantine and self-monitor for symptoms 14 days after the event, as well as staying away from vulnerable populations.”

Woller and company are hopeful that the precautions in place will help keep those in attendance safe as well as allow them to have fun in a year where a lot of traditions and activities have been put on hold.

“We definitely want to have something for people to go to but we also want them to know that their health and safety is our number one priority,” Woller said. “We’re going to put on a great event this year we’re going to keep people safe and we’re going to hope that people come out and have a great time.”

Gates open at 6 pm on Friday and tickets are sold until 11 pm. They can be purchased online here.

A family-friendly session will be available every Saturday from 4 to 5:30 pm with limited tickets sold and fewer actors participating in the haunt to ensure social distancing.

The Haunted Sawmill is open every Friday and Saturday night in the month of October.

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