When the weather turns crisp and leaves change to orange and yellow, it means something special in Centreville: Time to visit Cox Farms for its spectacular fall festival.
THAT’S WHEN this 96-acre farm is transformed into a children's paradise of pumpkins, hayrides, rope swings and giant slides. This is Cox's 34th annual fall festival and, each year, it's even more amazing than the year before.
"The new, improved hayride is bigger than ever and has a new, enchanted barn with flying pigs and wizards," said marketing director Bob Richard. "And we've redone the hayride route with new, cartoon characters to look at."
The festival opens this Saturday, Sept. 23, and runs through Nov. 5. Just off Pleasant Valley Road, Cox Farms is at 15621 Braddock Road. It’s open daily from 10 a.m.-6 p.m., with the last entry at 5 p.m. Starting Oct. 29, hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Phone: 703-830-4121; Web site: www.coxfarms.com.
Weekdays except Columbus Day, admission is $8; children under age 2 are free; Saturday, Sunday and Columbus Day, it’s $13.
Owners Eric Cox and wife Gina Richard (Bob's sister), open up their property to thousands of visitors from all over. And people of all ages return again and again because of all the fun they've had.
Cox farms features mountain slides, a castle, hay bales to climb on and mounds of soft sponges for kids to land on after leaping gleefully from a rope swing. There’s face-painting and even a life-size replica of the game, Candyland, for children to play.
Cox Farms offers two rope swings and 10 mountain slides, including Panda Pagoda, Miners’ Motel, Cox’s Mountain, Volcano Mountain, Fairyland, Winnie the Pooh’s House and the double-wide Jack-in-the-Beanstalk Barn Slide. The Volcano Mountain Slide has smoke coming out of it, dragons on top and special sound effects to make children feel as if they’re sitting atop a real volcano.
AND NOW Cox has added a new, giant slide called Slide-O-Saurus Mountain. It's 36 feet high and has four lanes and a dinosaur theme. "It combines two things kids tell us they love — dinosaurs and slides," said Richard. "So we've build a new, big hill with an old fort on top, and then we've got dinosaurs, bones and fossils all around it."
It's near the greenhouse on a part of the farm not previously used for the festival. And it was a massive, building-and-engineering project.
"It's taken Eric and a team of four carpenters about two months to build," said Richard. "And it's bigger than any of our other slides. It's really exciting, and I know the kids will just love it."
And the hayride is always a huge hit. It lasts nearly 25 minutes and passes by lots of funny and clever vignettes and scenarios, including the house of the Lost Boys from “Peter Pan,” with cool sound effects.
"The hayride is always everybody's favorite," said Bob Richard. "It passes by a new, choo-choo-train scene, as well as a witches' kitchen that was refreshed and spruced up a bit. And the kids always love the aliens [waving at the riders from the field]. They're like an institution. Young parents in their 30s bring their own children and remember seeing the aliens when they were young."
But that's not all. The hayride also journeys through a large, party barn filled with surprises, flashing lights and unusual sounds. Music plays, and riders turn their heads to see all the interesting and unusual sights on the walls and ceiling.
There’s also free entertainment on the music stage. Farmer Jack does a musical, cow-milking show, singing and telling stories while milking his cows, Bingo, Milkshake and Oreo.
In addition, at least four different groups of musical entertainers will perform on the weekends. Performing will be the Paige County Ramblers, a bluegrass-music group; classic rockers Late As Usual, with lead singer Tom Blood; Jimmy Cole's All-Stars, also classic rock; and folksinger Lori Kelley with Twice Shy.
Children will enjoy seeing baby chicks, pigs, bunnies and burros. And this year, said Richard, "We've also got turkeys, bantam hens and four-horned sheep. And in the Billy Goat Village, children can feed the goats their food in edible ice-cream cones, instead of paper cups — so the goats will even eat the container."
BECAUSE BOTH toddlers and older children flock to Cox Farms, the owners have now put up lollipop signs on the attractions that are especially appropriate for toddlers. "And we have a new, family rest stop near Candyland and the toddler area," said Richard. "It's away from the music, noise and excitement of the stage, for some quiet, down-time."
Also new this year and sure to be welcomed by parents is a baby-changing area with a bottle warmer. The rest area has picnic tables and is near the wooden trains. That way, potty-trained youngsters can play close by while mom or dad changes their sibling's diaper.
Or, said Richard, "Parents can just relax and chill and have some pie and coffee while their children are playing on the train. And part of that area is screened off so moms can breast feed, too."
It's also near the Sweet Shack, offering hot applesauce and ice cream, pie and coffee. There's also food galore throughout the farm. Apples and fresh cider, plus hot applesauce on the weekends, are available free. Visitors may also bring their own food (no alcohol) for picnics on the grounds. Or they may purchase hot dogs, pizza, French fries and Kettle Corn, weekdays, from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
On the weekends, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, barbecue, bratwurst and garden salads are offered, too, as well as fresh-roasted corn from Cox's corn roaster. Available every day are peanut butter and jelly or cheese sandwiches for children, plus apple juice boxes. Added Richard: "There'll be ice cream on hot weekends and coffee and pie when the weather's cooler."
Everyone gets to pick out a free, patch pumpkin to take home, and local apples, kettle corn, fresh cider, pies, cookies, jams, local honey, Indian corn, squash, gourds and fall decoration are for sale at the farm market.
The last weekend of the festival, Nov. 4-5, will include Pumpkin Madness. Children bring their old Halloween pumpkins and have fun playing games like pumpkin bowling and pumpkin toss with them. Then they smash them to bits. Pumpkins are catapulted, dropped from a high lift and rolled down Cox’s Mountain.
BIRTHDAY PARTIES and groups are welcome and may book reservations online. Besides families, the pumpkin patch is popular with Scouts, plus school, church and play groups.
"About 200 people work at the festival, including lots of our extended family and dozens of local teen-agers who are always helpful, enthusiastic and polite," said Richard. "People ask us where we get such nice teens."
Weekday afternoons are usually quieter at Cox Farms so, this year, it's offering a series of three "Afternoon Delights." One is a value card offering seven admissions for the price of five on weekday afternoons from noon-6 p.m.
Another is on Tuesday afternoons, designated as Spoil Your Grandparents days. After noon, anyone 60 or over can enter free with one person paying admission. It's limit one, free senior admission per paying customer. Seniors also receive 10 percent off items purchased in the festival market on Tuesdays.
The third is a free-lunch coupon available on the Web site, good for a free hot dog and drink for everyone in a group that arrives at the ticket booth after noon on weekdays, between Sept. 25-Oct. 5.
"Every week, we get calls and e-mails thanking us for having all these acres of green, open land that's still used for fun in Fairfax County," said Richard. "They beg us not to develop or change it, and we have no intention of doing that."
"Our slogan is 'Cox Farms has been a Centreville tradition for generations, and it will be for generations more,'" continued Richard. "Families love coming out here, getting outside at the most beautiful time of year, getting away from traffic, computer games and TV, and just enjoying Cox Farms' music, food and fun."