MERRILL - You can't keep a ghoul down.
At least that's what Jerry Hersil, the chair of Haunted Sawmill committee, and the team behind the Haunted Sawmill believe.
After a year-long hiatus from scares, the team is ready to pick up where they left off, scaring the pants off of visitors to the haunted house not far from downtown Merrill.
The Haunted Sawmill was closed for the 2016 season. The volunteers who help make the spooky dream a reality were simply burned out from the months of planning and execution, Hersil said. But this year, the team has regrouped, and the Sawmill will be back and better than ever. And it won't just open in October in time for Halloween, but even sooner in August for some mid-summer scares.
"There's a whole new level of enthusiasm," Hersil said.
Hersil has been involved with the Sawmill since the very beginning while his son was in Boy Scouts. Though his son is no longer involved, Hersil came to love working on the spooky attraction and has stuck with it through the years.
The Haunted Sawmill opened for the first time in 2010, as a way to raise money for Boy Scout Troop 599. It quickly became one of central Wisconsin's top Halloween attractions. One-hundred percent of the proceeds raised each year go to the Boy Scouts who help out at the haunted house, helping to pay for gear, camping trips and other expenses related to the troop.
Boy Scouts will still benefit from the haunted house this year, and some of the boys are even assembling their own rooms. In all, about 60 people will contribute to the project this year in a variety of roles, building sets, acting in the scenes or selling concessions and tickets to visitors. But they all do it for the fun, and out of their love of giving people a good scare, Hersil said.
There will be plenty of spooky props at the Haunted Sawmill when it returns for one weekend in August and for the month of October. (Photo: Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
The crew behind the Sawmill plans to make up for the lost time on August 12, opening the doors to the public for one night only. It will be a celebration of the "lost year" Hersil said.
There will also be several other events leading up to the summer haunt, including a scavenger hunt on Aug. 10, as a part of Merrill's "Crazy Days" and a masquerade ball on Aug. 11. The regular season of haunts will return on the evening of Friday, Oct. 13, and continue each weekend through the end of the month, with a special showing on Halloween evening.
The Sawmill crew are expecting the turnout to be even bigger than in years past, surpassing the 8,000 people that visited in 2015, Hersil said.
Kristin Woller adds a layer of fake blood to Luke Stenberg's zombie makeup. The two practiced for the Haunted Sawmill's return in August on July 6. (Photo: Laura Schulte/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin)
"We're really excited about it. The energy level is going to be really high here," Hersil said. "And not only that, we want to go with a much scarier version. We're going to be amping it up several nights, where it's probably more terrifying than it's ever been before."
For more information on the Haunted Sawmill and upcoming events, visit the Haunted Sawmill Facebook page.
Contact Going Out reporter Laura Schulte at 715-297-7532 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @schultelaura.