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Zombie hunters


As George Romero taught us, “When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.” What no one could have imagined is that Hell’s spillover would trickle out of Sleepy Hollow’s Haunted Scream Park.

“Black Ops: Zombie Paintball” will take place at Sleepy Hollow Haunted Scream Park, 4051 Dean Ave., Des Moines (east of the Iowa State Fairgrounds) from Oct. 28-31.

“Black Ops: Zombie Paintball” will take place at Sleepy Hollow Haunted Scream Park, 4051 Dean Ave., Des Moines (east of the Iowa State Fairgrounds) from Oct. 28-31.

The newest flagship attraction, called “Black Ops: Zombie Paintball,” is Sleepy Hollow’s twist on an interactive paintball experience. It is a fully immersive ride that transports guests into the middle of a zombie swarm. Survivors are armed with a custom paintball gun and UV paintballs to fight off the undead.

“We’ve been wanting to do a paintball attraction for years now but wanted to do it differently than everyone else has,” said Nathaniel James, general manager at Sleepy Hollow. “Up until now, the technology to do everything we wanted onboard the bus — bullet hits, lighting changes, synchronized audio, computerized pressure systems — just didn’t exist.”

In fact, James and his team had to come up with much of the technology themselves to make this passion project work.

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“The entire project has been a collaboration between the owner of Sleepy Hollow, our bus mechanic and myself,” said James. “Our team has spent the entire summer gutting the buses, installing custom LED lighting effects, speakers, subwoofers and manufacturing our own gun mounts and other elements. The onboard air system alone is amazing.”

After boarding a custom transport vehicle, survivors will be armed with paintball guns and ammunition to fight off attacking hordes of zombies.

“It’s incredible,” said James. “We have custom paintball guns and paintballs being made specially for us. High-power black light fixtures on the side of the vehicle make each shot look like a tracer round, and black light paint splatters everywhere with each hit.”

What is it that makes this version of the attraction different than other paintball attractions? The answer is in the computerized system onboard each transport. The lights inside spark, flicker and go dark on cue and even make the vehicle lights and sound system respond to external effects like gunshots and explosions. Those explosions will sound ultra-realistic with the onboard 2,000-watt sound systems.

Each transport vehicle can seat 22 people per trip. The ride is about seven minutes long, with participants seated in the transport the entire time. Along with targets, there will also be “live” zombies lurking in the shadows and approaching the vehicle.

“The actors we hire are equipped with custom costumes and masks, which completely eliminate the pain they would normally experience from getting hit with paintballs,” James said. “These were designed from the ground up with safety in mind. We knew our actors would be getting hit with tens of thousands of paintballs a night, and knew we couldn’t have any chance of injury.”

While there is no scorekeeping involved, the attraction revolves around an immersive storyline, which keeps survivors coming back for more.

“Guests have been loving the attraction,” said James. “The repeatability of something like this is something we never expected — we have guests coming back night after night to do this. Since it’s not overly scary, it’s a perfect attraction for the entire family. Everyone loves shooting things.” CV

Black Ops: Zombie Paintball
Sleepy Hollow Haunted Scream Park
Location: 4051 Dean Ave., Des Moines
(east of the Iowa State Fairgrounds)
Nights of Operation: Oct. 28-31
Admission: $26 Park Pass or $22 Pick 3 Pass (11 and younger: $24 and $20).
Black Ops: Zombie Paintball is $25 or can be added to the Park Pass for $9 more.
Save $3 by purchasing tickets online at

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