QUINCY - The pumpkins are one of the first items drivers will notice when they are approaching the Quincy Valley Lions' pumpkin patch and harvest maze.
The roughly 2 acres of pumpkins, grown by Becerra Gardens, are bright orange against the sandy brown soil along Road 9 Northwest. The Quincy-area farm joined with the Lions Club for the event, which opened Friday.
This is the third year the club has held the event, which is open on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., Saturdays from noon to 8 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. The maze costs $5.
Across the street, club members are making the final preparations for the event. Janice Stephens, the chairperson for the maze committee, is standing on the back of a trailer. To the left of the trailer about 400 hay bales are stacked into a straw maze. The maze is aimed at children under 10 years old.
The idea for the harvest maze started after the Kiwanis Club started a corn maze. The club asked the Quincy Valley Lions for help, Stephens said.
"So we helped with that for a couple of years, and then they decided to give it up, and we decided a corn maze was too much work. You have to start that in February or March and prepare it all summer long," she said. "We wanted to do something so that's how we came up with the straw maze."
Inside the straw maze pictures of Disney characters are posted for children to identify. The club also added tunnels to the straw maze this year.
"We're trying two of them to see how that goes over," Stephens said.
Near the straw maze the club set up a series of games for children to play. The games include a bean bag toss, lawn darts and tick-tack-toe.
"We're hoping each year, we can build upon it," Stephen said, "Then we've got a miniature horseshoe toss for the kids without the stakes."
The club expanded the event this year by adding a bin maze. The wooden crates are stacked about 6 feet high, allowing older participants to go into the maze.
"We wanted to do large straw bales, and we just couldn't figure out a way to make it work and we were driving around and we saw bins and we thought we could make that work," Stephens said. "So one of the local onion growers sold us some of his old ones. We tried to do it last year, and it didn't work, but we made it work this year."
An area man donated his time to haul the bins to the location.
Near the entrance to the bin maze stands a sculpture of a scarecrow. Stephens said it was constructed by a local artist.
"There's a gentleman in the club who makes metal art," she said. "This was his first piece of metal art. That was when we were still doing the corn maze, he made it ... He went out one year and scavenged a farmer's scrap heap and just started coming up with ideas. Then he really got into it. He makes a lot of stuff."
The inside of the bin maze is decorated with cobwebs, pieces of metal art, and in one spot a plastic rat pokes through a hole in the wall.
"We have one lady, she's made four scarecrows," she said.
The game inside of the bin maze is color coded, Stephens said. Participants pick the color they want. They discover clues inside the maze to help them identify an item. She stops by a metal bucket with a set of color-coded words above it.
The club spent two full weekends putting the mazes together, Stephens said.
"It's a lot of work, but we enjoy it. We like watching the kids," she said. "We have some preschools come out. Mansfield ... brings two bus loads and brings all the kids down to get their own pumpkin and Lions Club up there pays for all it ... The ones from Mansfield all sent me thank you notes and they all liked different parts. One of them it was the huge pumpkin. They told them whatever they could carry they could have ... and so he finally rolled it, but he made it back to the bus with it."
The club provides paints for people wanting to paint their pumpkins. If the burn ban is lifted, they plan to have fire pits to allow participants to roast marshmallows.
"We just give them a little tray with paint on it and let them have fun," Stephens said.