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Haunted for now — Kitsap Haunted Fairgrounds set to scare this year, change looms in future

James Tubberville, an organizer of Kitsap Haunted Fairgrounds, shows off props set to be used during the October
James Tubberville, an organizer of Kitsap Haunted Fairgrounds, shows off props set to be used during the October 'frightgrounds' event.
— image credit: Tom James/staff photo

Kitsap will get its haunting this October.

The annual Kitsap County Haunted Fairgrounds event will go on, but organizers are considering other options for next year amid claims of cuts to and mismanagement of the profitable program.

A longstanding agreement with the county to share control of the funds and reinvest them in the haunted house has not been honored “for years,” said organizer James Tubberville.

Instead, the event gets back less money than it generates, and has consistently faced problems getting logistical support from the county, he said.

“Our feeling is that the county kind of looks at this as a cash cow, and that’s not what we’re about,” Tubberville said. “They’re robbing from the pot, and if they keep doing it the pot is going to dry up.”

After last year’s event, Tubberville said, the event faced a cut of about 30 percent, even though it made more than $30,000 above its expenses. Six thousand people attended the event last year.

Jim Dunwiddie, director of Kitsap County Parks and Recreation, said he did not have an explanation for why the program faced cuts even though it was making money.

Whether a program is cut or not, Dunwiddie said, has little to do with its profitability. Instead, funds are given out out as they come in. If the parks budget is smaller, programs - profitable and un-profitable programs alike - get less, Dunwiddie said.

This year at least, the event is scheduled to be as frightening as ever, Tubberville said.

Some improvement has been made recently, Tubberville said. Two Parks and Recreation employees were replaced over summer, including the Park Operations Superintendent at the department.

Working with the new employees, Tubberville said, has “been night and day,” and has given organizers hope that they can find a way to keep the event at the fairgrounds.

“This year,” Tubberville said, “I actually feel like we’re working together.”

Still, Tubbervile said the the improvement hasn’t been enough to change the feelings of the “core group” of volunteers about the financial handling of the event by the county.

The haunted fairgrounds group has been considering changing the location or organization of the event since before the summer, Tubberville said, and is discussing everything from incorporating and leasing space from the county to moving to a new location and cutting the county out entirely.

Overall, Tubberville said the goal of any change would be to get more control over the finances and staging of the event, so that proceeds could be reinvested to make the haunt bigger and better every year. The group is only considering incorporating as a nonprofit, Tubberville said.

Tubberville said neither he nor any of the other organizers want to make money from the event, but only to see it grow.

In total, the event takes about 6,000 man-hours to set up, staff, and take down. Except for Parks and Recreation employees who staff the ticket booths, Tubberville said, all the hours are volunteer, donated by a database of 250 people who just love giving a good scare.

Set to fill three buildings, the event is laid out as a walk-through, starting with a set of almost cartoonish rooms, leading into a building with much more realistic props and blood and finishing with a maze.

In setting it up, Tubberville said he and the other organizers try to “attack all the senses” of visitors, as well as engaging every phobia, from clowns to snakes to fear of tight spaces and of course the dark.

“Our ultimate goal is to get you to pee your pants,” Tubberville said. “And you can quote me on that. It happens many-a-time every year.”

Every night, the event starts with an hour of “lights-on” time, when guests can go through the haunt with interior lights on. Tubberville recommended that anyone with children or not sure if they want the full fright go through then.

Every year, Tubberville said, some people get more of a scare than they anticipate. Actors get shoved, and even hit by haunt-goers reacting to a surprise. Every year people scream, and sometimes even fall down running away from the actors with chainsaws.

“But that’s what we’re doing,” Tubberville said. “That’s the whole thing. They want to be scared.”

Some of the haunt’s volunteers, said Bruce Waterbury, a Parks and Recreation Employee who oversees the haunt during its actual operation, are even make-up experts, adding to the detail and quality of the night.

Waterbury, who is also a horror movie fan and an actor in local theater productions, works the event in costume, making sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Waterbury said of his job, “I can still do it, even if I might be dressed up as a skeleton or a lunatic.”

Admission to Kitsap Haunted Fairgrounds will be $12 or $11 with donation of a canned food item.

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