WINSTON — Kids dressed up as cats, superheroes, princesses and more enjoyed early Halloween festivities under the watchful eyes of cheetahs, tarantulas and monkeys at the Wildlife Safari Zoobilee on Friday and Saturday.

Wildlife Safari advertises the Zoobilee as “the biggest non-spooky Halloween celebration in town,” but Safari docent Annie LaStar takes advantage of the night to bring out something people normally fear—spiders.

She shows off two of her hand-sized tarantulas to babies who reach out and adults who won’t touch the glass.

“Oh my gosh, I love this,” LaStar said. “At this time of the year, I bring out my tarantulas and I’m educating literally hundreds of people about the usefulness of these big spiders. Even if they are scared, they say, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’”

The safari also swapped a hayride for a spooky spotlight tour through the park in the dark for the first time this year. Wildlife Safari Marketing Director Jacob Schlueter said it also raised the price of admission to $8 to encourage a more comfortable environment for attendees.

“We had an issue last year where, a lot of the feedback we got was that it was so packed that it wasn’t very much fun,” Schlueter said. “We were absolutely at capacity last year, so that’s why we went up in price. That, and it gets a little more expensive every year.”

Some of the kids come with their families every year, sporting new costumes and taking the opportunity to run around a little more than they could at a neighborhood trick-or-treat. Mikyela Cavaner from Lookinglass brings her daughter, Ellie, 3, decked out in her princess dress.

“It’s a good community thing,” Cavaner said. “It’s a good thing for all the kids to come out. It’s a lot less people, a lot less crowded.”

Other families enjoyed the perfect night to wear costumes not buried under snowsuits. Carmen Fairbanks, 7, said she dresses up like her favorite princesses year-round, but the past few years, she lived in Alaska and didn’t get to show them off for Halloween.

This year, she chose to dress up as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

“Dorothy has a dog and I like dogs,” Carmen said. “We got a lot of candy and not just candy, but other things besides candy. I like to see all the animals.”

Her mom, Marissa Fairbanks dressed as the good witch, Glinda, from the Wizard of Oz and took her kiddos around to the different game stations and community booths for treats.

“It’s trick-or-treating in a fun safe environment — and we aren’t in the ice and snow,” Fairbanks said.

Dan Thiessen brought out the Grocery Outlet tent from Winston for the fifth year and planned to hand out over 1,500 pieces of candy, besides the 1,000 pounds the safari bought before the event.

“It’s for the kids,” Thiessen said. “It’s great for the kids, good for the community, and it brings everybody together. It’s safe, which you need nowadays.”

Wildlife Safari’s next big event, Zoolights, will be on the weekend of Dec. 14. Tickets will be the same $5 as in previous years.

Janelle Polcyn can be reached at or 541-957-4204. Or follow her on Twitter @JanellePolcyn.

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Janelle Polcyn is the business reporter at The News-Review, graduated from the University of Texas, and is a podcast enthusiast.

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