SUMPTER — Marsha Demaris strides in, her grin a stark contrast to the meat cleaver embedded in her skull.

“I just found this!” she says, still beaming as she removes the headband — it’s just a Halloween prop, after all — and places it on the head of skeletal mannequin.

A group of about 10 volunteers stretched cobwebs, placed plastic spiders and generally turned the Sumpter Dredge into a giant haunted house on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

This project, organized by Laramie Shanks, owner of the Sumpter Stockade, is for the Haunted Dredge experience scheduled for Friday, Oct. 29, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The dredge, which mined gold from the Sumpter Valley from 1935 to 1954, is the centerpiece of the Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department in Sumpter, about 27 miles west of Baker City.

Shanks rushed around, adjusting a web here, hanging a ghost there.

“Is there still a creepy mask left?” she hollers to the other workers.

This is the second year they’ve decorated the dredge for Halloween. They skipped 2020.

She just keeps collecting decorations.

“I had no Halloween stuff when I moved here four years ago,” she says.

An eavesdropper on these volunteers may wonder what they’re plotting, what with the talk of a chain saw and the clowns and other scary stuff.

“The witch with the cauldron here, a casket over there,” Shanks says, moving through the dim spaces.

And then there are the actors — although Shanks won’t reveal how many she’s recruited for the night haunting.

“There will be humans,” is all she says.

During a lull, ShaRee Serr scrolls through Amazon searching for accessories to her witch costume.

“I’ve never done much with Halloween,” she says, “but you get around Laramie and you catch her spirit.”

Serr and her husband, Karl, live in Wendell, Idaho, and met Shanks when they stayed at the Stockade. Now friends, they traveled to Sumpter to help Shanks decorate for the upcoming holiday.

Demaris, her head intact after removing the cleaver headband, can’t help but grin as she looks at the transformed interior.

But this sunny October day doesn’t quite represent what people will find on Oct. 29.

“It’s fabulous when it’s dark,” she says.

Coinciding with the Haunted Dredge are two night rides of the Sumpter Valley Railroad. The train will leave the Sumpter Station at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Fares for these short runs are $15 adults, $14 seniors/military, and $8 for ages 3-17. For tickets, go to www.sumptervalleyrailroad.org.

The fourth-annual Trunk-or-Treat is Saturday, Oct. 30, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on the main street of town.

More trains are planned for that day and depart Sumpter at 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Is it haunted?

Every year the dredge attracts ghost hunters, says Darold Smith, assistant park ranger.

“Ever since they did ‘Ghost Mine,’” Smith says, referring to the show filmed near Sumpter that also explored the dredge. “We had a guy from Canada who asked if he could look for ghosts.”

The wooden behemoth, floating silent in a pond as the centerpiece of this state heritage area, is leftover from the area’s gold mining days. The dredge ran 24 hours a day, digging up more than $4 million in gold.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Restoration began in 1995.

When asked if it’s haunted, Smith just shrugs.

“It’s a dredge. It just collected a lot of gold,” he says with a smile.

Although the state heritage area is accessible year-round — several miles of trails wind through the dredge piles and ponds — the dredge itself closes to the public the day after Halloween.

“We turn it over to the ghosts,” Smith says with a grin.

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