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Cox Farms Opens Saturday

Pumpkins, apple cider, hayrides, mountain slides, baby animals and a world of fun — it's all at Cox Farms in Centreville. And owners Eric Cox and Gina Richard (husband and wife) eagerly welcome visitors to their 32nd annual fall festival there.

"Come out to the farm, play in some hay, get a little dirty and have a good time," said Richard. "There's lots of fresh air and simple fun. And the hayride is really outrageous and spectacular — better than ever."

Located at 15621 Braddock Road in Centreville, Cox Farms will be open daily, beginning this Saturday, Sept. 25, through Nov. 7, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., with the last entry at 5 p.m. Phone: 703-830-4121; Web site: www.coxfarms.com. Weekdays except Columbus Day, admission is $7; those 2 and under are free; Saturday, Sunday and Columbus Day, it's $11.

This beautiful 50-acre farm is a children's fantasy land come true. It's a place where kids can experience the sheer joy of swinging on a rope and jumping into a mound of soft sponges. It's also where they can enjoy the simple pleasure of scrambling over bales of hay, exploring tunnels and castles and whizzing down mountain slides.

And Cox Farms has plenty of these activities to offer. Besides three rope swings, there are 10 mountain slides — including Panda Pagoda, Miners' Motel, Cox's Mountain, Volcano Mountain, Fairyland and Winnie the Pooh's house.

THE VOLCANO MOUNTAIN slide features special sound effects to make children feel like they're sitting on top of a volcano, and it even has dragons on top. But that's not all. New this year is the Live-Stalk Barn Slide inside a barn dominated by a giant beanstalk.

The owners built a staircase to the top floor of a barn where two, imposing ravens lurk in the windows. "Then you go through a pair of giant hands and onto a big, wide, curvy, fast slide and out," said spokeswoman Lynn Hertz. "It's really cool and very exciting."

She said visitors will also notice lots of new things about the ever-popular hayride. Travelers will enjoy new attractions along the way, with lots of visual treats on both sides, such as a witches' kitchen and some hedgehogs climbing a tree.

"Everything is put together in different groupings," said Hertz. "There's so much to look at that it might even take you more than one time to see it all." The hayride will even go right through a huge barn filled with all sorts of surprises. It won't be scary, but will have lots of flashing lights and unusual sounds. "I love the party barn," said Hertz. "It just makes the hayride."

The kiddie area contains a life-size replica of the game, Candyland, and children may actually walk around and play it. Winnie the Pooh's house is ready to welcome visitors and, all around the pumpkin patch, things have been spruced up for the new season.

"We've done a lot of painting," said Hertz. "Things are so bright and colorful, you'll almost have to wear sunglasses. We've got colors everywhere — they'll knock your socks off."

There's also new landscaping to make the farm even more appealing. "And we've had so much rain that the corn is high and beautiful," said Hertz. "The whole farm is green and lush and ready for everybody to visit. It's bright and cheery."

There's also free entertainment. Farmer Jack does a musical, cow-milking show with Bingo the Cow, singing and telling stories. Weekends also feature face painting, pony rides and a sing-along stage where kids can come up and sing into a mike, dance and feel like a real entertainer.

Children will also enjoy feeding the baby goats at Billy Goat Village, and they'll be able to see cows, chicks, baby pigs, donkeys and a horse at various places throughout the grounds.

APPLES AND FRESH CIDER, plus hot applesauce on the weekends, are available free. Weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., hot dogs, pizza and snacks will be for sale; a larger menu — including pie and coffee — is offered on the weekends. Visitors may also bring their own food (no alcohol) for picnics on the grounds; picnic tables are on a first-come, first-served basis.

Everyone gets a free patch pumpkin to take home, and local apples, kettle corn, fresh cider, crumb cakes and brownies, fruit jams, honey, Indian corn, squash, gourds, fall decorations and lots more pumpkins may be purchased at the farm market.

And as Cox Farms has done previously, it's contributing $1 of each admission on opening weekend, Sept. 25-25, to Western Fairfax Christian Ministries (WFCM). It's also encouraging all visitors those days to bring canned goods with them for the WFCM's food pantry for needy families.

The fun continues right through the last weekend, Nov. 6-7, when Cox holds a messy-but-exciting, pumpkin-smashing festival called Pumpkin Madness. Kids bring in their old Halloween pumpkins and play games with them before smashing them to bits.

"The pumpkins will be catapulted, smashed, tossed, rolled and dropped," said Hertz. "It's wild, and it gets better every year."

Birthday parties and groups are welcome and may call for reservations. Last year, more than 100,000 people visited Cox Farms; in good weather, more than 6,000 people flock there on the weekends. But there's plenty of room for everyone.

Besides families, the pumpkin patch is popular with Scouts and with school, church and play groups. So far this year, said Hertz, some "20,000 people have made reservations to come out during the week."

Cox Farms is family owned and operated, and all three of Eric Cox's and Gina Richard's children are involved in the fall festival. Aaron hired most of the employees and made their work schedules, Lily is in charge of advertising and food, and Lucas oversees the grounds, maintenance and equipment and solves any problems that arise.

"I've known them since they were younger, and it's nice to see them grow and evolve and take on all this responsibility," said Hertz. "They're energetic and have new ideas, and it's lots of fun to see things through their eyes."