Chris and Dave Violette field questions about the Pumpkin Playground at the Burke Nursery and Garden Center months before the fair even opens. Their children, 12-year-old Joshua and 7-year-old Hunter, are so anxious to get to the playground, they want to know how far off October is, even in the middle of July.
"In the summertime, we hear about this. They ask us when fall is going to start, because they know this happens in the fall. You would think kids wouldn't want fall because then they have go back to school," said Chris Violette, a Springfield resident who had brought her children to the Pumpkin Playground Oct. 2, the day after it opened.
The Violettes have to come to the Pumpkin Playground more than once during the month the park is open, otherwise Joshua and Hunter complain endlessly, according to their parents. They’ll probably visit again in late October, right before the park closes, said Chris Violette.
"We drive by here almost every day. As soon the stuff starts going up, they remind us that we have to come here," said Dave Violette.
THE BURKE NURSERY and Garden Center is hosting the 16th annual Fall Festival and Pumpkin Playground through Oct. 31 on its grounds at 9401 Burke Road. The park is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and costs $9 per person on weekdays and $12 per person on the weekends and Columbus Day.
The park features wooden structures, including a large pumpkin and pirate's ship, which younger children can climb on like a jungle gym. There is also a "money mountain" where children can hunt for coins and other treasures in the sand. Smaller children can also ride mechanical horses or crawl into a large plastic tube and roll down a hill.
The price of admission includes unlimited access to the hay ride, which has "spooky and haunted" features at night. The pumpkin fair also features farm animals such as lambs and roosters.
Cherokee story teller Mary Aponte provides weekday entertainment, explaining the legend of the eagle with dance, drumming and song.
Additional activities are offered on the weekends, including face painting, a moon bounce and pony rides.
Many children said the largest draw to the pumpkin playground, by far, is the large shoots set up.
"The slides were the biggest attraction for me," said Amanda Kirkman, 18, who was baby-sitting some people at the playground one weekend night. Kirkman said she used to come to the fair as a child.
"We have come here just about every year for the last 10 years," said Ken Kirkman, Amanda's father who lives in Burke.
THE PUMPKIN PLAYGROUND is particularly attractive to families with small children and children with special needs. Other larger fall festivals can be too overwhelming and scary, according to a few parents attending the fair.
"This is a little bit smaller and so many of the things are closer together. Some of the bigger events can be daunting with a special needs child," said Amanda Quick, whose 6-year-old son, Coleman, is autistic.