Black cats and bats are the animals that come to mind when people think of Halloween. These animals have been associated with magic, bad luck, and death throughout the years as children have knocked on neighborhood doors to ask for a treat.

How often do individuals think of lions, tigers, and bears when the Halloween season rolls around? Hopefully not many, but that is why the Springfield Dickerson Park Zoo has high hopes in making it's annual event a truly unique one.

On Thursday the Dickerson Park Zoo will begin the 17th Halloween Spooktacular. This year's event is sponsored by Friends of the Zoo, KY-3 and McDonald's.

The event runs through Oct. 31, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and will provide fun for any age.

The Halloween Spooktacular gives people a reason to come out and enjoy the zoo for first-time visitors or returning guests as well.

Hundreds of jack-o-lanterns carved by local schools will light the paths of visitors as they travel the zoo's routes. Special costumed volunteers will hand out treats of all kinds to children from ages 1 to 12.

The annual Festival of Scarecrows will feature scarecrows made by local 4-H, Girl Scout, Boy Scout, Camp Fire Boys and Girls Club groups. The Pumpkin Mayor will also attend for the children to meet as they visit the city of the pumpkin people.

The Spooktacular event is now in its 17th year and was initially created to help boost the zoo's popularity says Melinda Mancuso, public relations director for the zoo.

"Back in the '80s the zoo was still crafting its master plan. Associates from our zoo visited a zoo in Indiana during the Halloween season and noticed that a Halloween event was taking place and was very popular," Mancuso said. "We decided that this was something we could do, and so we turned it into a way to get families together. It's great for Halloween because it takes place in cooler weather, darker lighting, but still includes a safe environment for children and their families," Mancuso said.

Dickerson Park Zoo's Halloween event is a great way for families to experience time together in a fun setting.

"I like the event because it's fun and recreational. It has grown to become our largest fundraiser, and it's just very unique. It brings families together so they can spend time with each other in the outdoors," Mancuso said.

Tickets for the event are on sale at all local McDonald's restaurants for $2; tickets at the zoo gate will cost $2.50 per person. Children under the age of 1 and members of the Friends of the Zoo will be admitted free.

The Friends of the Zoo was created in 1975 to help save the zoo from total disaster. Dickerson Park Zoo was built in 1922 and until the late 1970s went unsupported with little money and was on the verge of being closed. The revitalization of the zoo came at a great time when the community of Springfield, education programs, a membership program and private donors saw the need to save a wonderful chance at making the community a better place to live culturally and environmentally, Mancuso said.

"The zoo is relative to many activities," Mancuso said. "It gives you the experience to spend time together with nature, friends and family. People learn something while they are having fun and they learn about our message of conservation and protection of the environment. It gives us the unique ability to make an impact on the visitors to the zoo to positively change their outlook on the environment."

The zoo has many volunteers that make their programs successful. Between 75 and 100 people give their time up each year to help the zoo make strides for a better future. Many adults have found this very rewarding, as many of the volunteers are out of high school and even out of college. Dickerson Park Zoo offers theme classes throughout the year for all ages from toddlers to high school youth.

People that attend the Spooktacular can check up on the progress of the new wing that is being built onto the zoo. Mancuso said the Diversity of Life House will include reptiles, amphibians, an aquarium and some primates.

The Halloween Spooktacular gives each person a great reason to come and enjoy the idea of the holiday while looking, learning and having a great time at the Dickerson Park Zoo.