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Pick of Pumpkins

October brings a rush of pumpkin fun and festivals from Kansas to Indiana.

Nothing quite says autumn more than splashes of orange in the landscape. Leaves transition to shades of orange, gold, and scarlet. And almost instantaneously, pumpkins are everywhere. For many of us, pumpkins herald autumn.

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Above: Eckert's Country Store offers pumpkins, baked goods, and jellies;

Below: Billy Bob's Pig Races at Eckert's Farm draw crowds;

Pigs

School field trips and weekends center on visits to pumpkin patches and festivals. Annual family traditions are built around pumpkins, whether it's picking pumpkins at a farm or gathering for the lighting of Great Pumpkin Mountain. But one thing is clear. The Midwest scores high in pumpkin fun.

Discovering Pumpkins in Kansas

A bright autumn Friday morning finds Applejack Pumpkin Patch in Augusta, Kan., packed with preschoolers and smiling parents. Applejack is like a farm and playground rolled into one. Youngsters are summoned to a trike track, miniature zip line, or the hillside slide. A petting zoo offers goats, llamas, ducks, and rabbits. Two corn mazes sit side by side; one is for the pint-size crowd and the other is for older children and adults.

The pumpkin patch is just beyond the central area. It's an easy walk or you can board a tractor for a ride over. Younger children can climb aboard the Applejack train barrel cars, pulled by a small John Deere tractor.

The field stretches far as visitors search for the perfect pumpkin to take home. Pumpkins are sold by the pound. Farm admission is $8 (free admission for ages 2 and younger). A variety of specialty pumpkins and gourds in all sizes and colors also can be purchased near the gate.

In October, Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead in Overland Park, Kan., acquaints visitors with the past as a 1900 historical farm by day. After visiting turn-of-the-century replicas of a general store, schoolhouse, and barn, visitors can check out the animals or go fishing before boarding a pony-drawn carriage or a wagon to reach the popular Pumpkin Hollow. As dusk falls, this attraction becomes a Halloween hotspot as scarecrows, ghosts, and spiders drop in at the homestead.

Admission to Deanna Rose farm is $2. Pumpkin Hollow will be open from Sept. 30–Oct. 31. Pumpkin Hollow has an extra charge, but that was not available at press time.

Ascending Great Pumpkin Mountain Just across the border and Missouri River, the City of St. Joseph waits. The northwestern Missouri town boasts the beginning of the Pony Express and the end of outlaw Jesse James. St. Joseph likes the arts and festivals, and during the second weekend in October, Oct 7–9 this year, Patee Park in St. Joseph is transformed into PumpkinFest. Streets around the Pony Express National Museum are closed as people arrive ready to play games, eat, listen to music, and enjoy the crafts. Children and their families come in costume for the Children's Costume Parade.

On Friday night, as the sun dips low in the sky, the crowds move to the Pony Express Museum lawn where scaffolding holds approximately 1,000 jack-o'-lanterns carved by area school children. Hay bales provide front row seats to early arrivals. The rest of the crowd gathers behind them. Streetlights are shut off. For a brief moment, there is both silence and darkness. Suddenly, a switch is flipped and all of the pumpkins light up at the same time and bring a collective "ah" from the crowd.

Across the state in St. Charles, more pumpkins glow in the autumn evenings as part of Main Street's Pumpkin Glow, set this year for Oct. 28 and 29. Hundreds of lit jack-o'-lanterns line the historical district from 5–8 p.m. both nights. Shops, restaurants, and cafés stay open later, many offering samples and demonstrations. For example, you can try the peanut butter balls at Bike Stop Café on Riverside Drive or get pumpkin spice sugar scrub for your hands at Provenance Soapworks on South Main Street. Organizers remind visitors this isn't the trick-or-treat Main Street event – that will follow on Oct. 31.

Pumpkin patches Adorn Illinois and Indiana

Illinois is among the country's top pumpkin-producing states, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau. Canned pumpkin giant, Libby's, gets most of its pumpkins from the Land of Lincoln. Many of the pumpkin farms that open their gates to the public each year are family-owned and operated. Eckert's farms are no exception. Started more than 100 years ago, Eckert's has three locations just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis.

Fall fun can be found at any Eckert's location, but the farm in Millstadt offers pumpkin and apple picking beginning Sept. 9, plus there's a view of the St. Louis skyline from Lookout Mountain. But there's a lot more, from rides to food to a corn maze. See how far you can shoot a pumpkin out of the Jack-O-Lobber.

The fun doesn't stop when the sun goes down. Bonfires and Halloween-themed hayrides are available weekends in September and October.

Like Illinois, Indiana has its share of pick-your-own farms, including Vogt Farm in Batesville. For more than 20 years, Vogt Farm has held a weekend Pumpkin Festival starting the last weekend of September and continuing through mid-October. Admission is free. In addition to picking pumpkins, visitors can tackle the corn maze, play games, and enjoy the petting zoo.

If you're near Indianapolis on Oct. 29 and 30, make time for the Pumpkinliner chugging out of Connersville, Ind. This White Water Valley Railroad excursion departs from the station in Connersville and stops at a pumpkin patch. The $10 train ticket includes round-trip service, a hayride to the patch, and a pumpkin from the field for children 12 and younger.

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, pumpkin products have grown 30 percent in the past five years. But more important, visiting pumpkin patches and farms allows families to experience farm life and create memories.

Karen Gibson is a contributor from Norman, Okla.

September/October 2016 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact:

Applejack Pumpkin Patch, 10007 S.W. Indianola Road, Augusta, Kan., (316) 733-8909

Deanna Rose Children's Farmstead, 13800 Switzer Road, Overland Park, Kan., (913) 897-2360

PumpkinFest at Pony Express National Museum, 914 Penn St.,
(800) 530-5930,

St. Charles' Main Street Pumpkin Glow

Eckert's Millstadt Farm, 2719 Eckert Orchard Lane, (800) 745-0513

Vogt Farm, 12115 N. State Road 129, Batesville, Ind., (812) 934-4627

White Water Valley Railroad, Connersville. Reservations can be made online or by calling (765) 825-2054.

To visit these pumpkin spots, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTik® Travel Planners and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Missouri and Kansas through the Free Travel Information Card found online.

The online calendar at AAA.com/Traveler has details on more autumn events.


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