Zombie Hunting for the Whole Family

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

They had us at "paintball and zombies."

SplatterPark, a paintball facility about 45 miles north of Columbus in Mount Gilead, has been invaded by zombies and, every weekend through Nov. 2, they are inviting civilians in to help eradicate the plague. Columbus Parent's photo editor Tim Johnson bravely volunteered his family plus another family to risk annihilation for this story.

But it wasn't too hard to sell wife Nicki, 11-year-old son Hunter and 8-year-old daughter Scarlett on the outing.

"There's just something fun about being able to post on Facebook that you were part of a zombie eradication team," Nicki said.

Each zombie-hunting expedition starts on the hour, though participants are welcome to shoot at a target range before or after the ride. Hunters are seated at 32 stations on a hay trailer to which paintball guns are mounted (but can't swivel around completely). The ZHV (Zombie Hunting Vehicle) moves slowly through woods that zombies (live ones, mind you) stumble out of toward the trailer.

"The first ones were a little lazy," said Scarlett. "They weren't very scary."

"But you were scared at first because you thought they could grab you," said her friend, Olivia Miller, 7.

"OK, yes," Scarlett said.

"Wait, was I scared?" Olivia asked.

Scarlett shook her head, "No."

The ride lasts about 20 minutes and hunters have 100 paintballs to fire ($10 per extra 100). The goal is to nail the zombies in the head (the zombified employees of the park wear face masks and full-body protective gear). Hunter Johnson and his 11-year-old friend, Travis Miller, said they wanted a longer ride.

"Like three hours," Travis said.

Nicki also warned that the bathrooms are a little rustic, which might be an issue for some children.

The kids also expressed disappointment that the real zombies didn't look like the ones on the park's posters and website (which features a mock newscast that sets up the story of how the zombies were created from a nearby chemical spill). But Hunter also said he was happily surprised the zombies were real and not pop-up targets.

An unexpected highlight was the park's snack bar.

"They had the best hot dogs in the world," Scarlett said.

"Well, that's because they had a sign saying they were," Nicki added. "But I have to give them props. They do not gouge you like a lot of places do. Just about everything at the snack bar cost $1, and that included the hot dogs, drinks, candy bars and chips."

The Johnson and Miller families opted for an early evening visit, which didn't allow them to get the full effect of the UV-reactive paint in the paintballs. Visits after dark are probably much scarier, the kids agreed.

And Nicki felt it was a great, if unusual, family outing.

"We don't usually tend to go out and do big things," she said, "but as a parent you always look at situations and wonder how the kids will remember them. This one I could say, 'yup, that's a memory.'"