ASHMORE — A former resort east of Charleston has been revived in time to scare the living daylights out of visitors during the upcoming Halloween season.
The recreation site, now known as Bella Vita Private Resort, will host a Halloween Fall Festival with a Haunted Hayride of Terror starting Thursday, Oct. 6. New owner Victor Mannina, an Illinois native who has made his career in construction, plans in the spring to fully reopen this 110-acre resort that includes a restaurant building, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a 25-acre lake and Embarras River shoreline.
Mannina, who purchased the property in July, said he decided to host a Halloween event to provide a “soft introduction” to Bella Vita and to begin generating income while he gets the rest of the site up and going. He said he was looking for a property to manage in his retirement and was drawn by the many amenities that this site just north of Illinois Route 16 offers in a half day’s drive from approximately 6 million people.
“If you have something that can draw a lot of people, you can draw a lot of people to the area,” Mannina said, adding that he feels regional destinations will become even more popular as gas prices and other travel costs increase.
Bella Vita Private Resort owner Victor Mannina stands Sunday afternoon next to one of the wagons that will be used for haunted hayrides during the upcoming Halloween Fall Festival at the site north of Illinois Route 16 east of Charleston.
The new owner said the amenities include a converted former horse barn, now an office building, that was used during the property’s years as Lincoln Springs Resort, open 2007-2011, and earlier as Springhaven Resort. He said those waiting for turns on the hayride or miniature golf course will be able to purchase refreshments from a cafeteria, browse vendor booths, use photo backdrops and more in the converted barn.
“You are inside, you are warm and you are comfortable,” Mannina said.
The Halloween Fall Festival will be open 6-10 p.m. Thursdays, 6-11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 6-9 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 30, except for being closed Oct. 8 for a private event. Hayride tickets and site parking can be purchased at the door or in advance at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-bella-vita-private-resort-halloween-fall-festival-haunted-hayride-tickets-404755363187.
Mannina said each 30 minute hayride will take visitors down the resort’s hilly gravel roads to the lake and to a detached garage that has an underground tunnel connecting it to the basement of a former home site. Visitors will ride and walk by many frightening sites, including costumed figures lurking in the woods and elsewhere.
A zombie pirate, portrayed by Brock Hanner of Charleston, and his potential victim, Bella Combs of Charleston, take a break Sunday afternoon at lakeside while preparing for the upcoming Halloween Fall Festival at Bella Vita Private Resort north of Illinois Route 16 east of Charleston.
“We have a great group here. These guys have been fantastic,” said Mannina’s sister, Sue Murphey, adding that they have recruited their costumed figures from Eastern Illinois University and other schools.
Charleston High School students Brock Hanner said he and his classmate, Bella Combs, have had fun with their unique job of helping prepare lakeside scares. Combs said, while standing amid tombstone and zombie props, that they have enjoyed getting to work together as a team.
“I’m waiting for my first victims as we speak,” said Lake Land College student Mahala Van Hise of Charleston, while dressed as an executioner. “It’s a lot of fun. I have always been into Halloween. I would love to do a job like this year round.”
A killer clown, executioner and Grim Reaper stand watch Sunday afternoon at the gateway to the “Underground Chamber of Death” for the upcoming Halloween Fall Festival at Bella Vita Private Resort north of Illinois Route 16 east of Charleston. They are portrayed by Haley Smith of Charleston, Mahala Van Hise of Charleston, and Dioselin Andrade of Gilman, respectively.
After Halloween, Mannina said he is looking ahead to leasing space for a new restaurant and to start taking bookings for more special events. He said he has been installing new electrical lines for the RV camping site at the resort and plans to apply for grant funding, with the help of the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce, to refurbish the site’s 62-foot-tall fiberglass statue of Abraham Lincoln.
Mannina said he also intends to offer “Donut Boat” rentals and fishing on the lake, while managing use of the property by it being a private resort, and to offer kayak rentals on the Embarras River. In addition, he wants to lobby for the city of Charleston’s Lincoln Prairie Grass Trail to have a direct connection to the resort, noting that there is an existing steel bridge over the river near this recreation trail’s current endpoint east of town.
“I think people will be looking for things like this. I think it will be a go-to place,” Mannina said of Bella Vita.
🔎 Discovering Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln markers in Central Illinois
Contact Rob Stroud at (217) 238-6861. Follow him on Twitter: @TheRobStroud
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