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story.lead_photo.caption This Ford F1 is just one of many unique decorations on display Saturday at Westphalia Trading Co.'s Spooktacular. Photo by Ken Barnes / News Tribune.

Area pumpkin patches and fall festivals have been pleasantly surprised to stay busy this season, despite ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

On Saturday, families bundled up against the fall chill to spend a day at the Westphalia Trading Co. Spooktacular and Fischer Farms in Jefferson City.

Julie Boeckmann, owner of Westphalia Trading Co., said they've had good attendance this year. Extra precautions were put in place like additional hand sanitizer and signs reminding people to social distance.

Children ran around the property, playing games and petting animals as their caretakers looked on. There were even a couple of birthday parties Saturday.

Masks weren't required, but with the way the activities are set up around the property, social distancing is pretty easy for attendees to maintain.

"We just tell people to do what they feel comfortable doing," Boeckmann said. "You're individually responsible for your own safety. Once you're through the front gate, there's so many activities and so much room here that you're not crowded."

The atmosphere was similar at Fischer Farms, where picking pumpkins and finding the path through a corn maze are popular activities.

Jay Fischer, owner of Fischer Farms, said they made some changes to their set up due to the virus, including building a new pavilion of picnic tables to allow more space when guests are sitting down to snack.

One element of places like Fischer Farms that some may not consider is the time it takes to plan and grow a patch of pumpkins or a corn maze. Back when the pandemic was still in it's early stages, with more closures and statewide rules in place, Fischer had to make a choice.

"When I planted the pumpkins and the corn maze — you've got to plan for that in the spring," Fischer said. "It was April and May, and I honestly didn't know what to do. I finally said we're just going to trudge forward and hope it works out."

Boeckmann said they were worried about the possibility of not opening for the fall, after Westphalia Trading Co. lost it's full spring season due to the Osage County Health Department rules at that time.

But with the rules lifted, the fall season was able to continue, and Boeckmann said it's been good.

"We've had a really good season," Boeckmann said. "After loosing the spring season we were worried, but people have come back out to support us this fall."

For the Fischers, the weekends have been pretty much normal with good attendance, but they've suffered another hit to their typical business.

"The weekends have been fairly good, but we did a lot of school groups during the week," Fischer said. "We did anywhere from two to five school groups every day. We lost all of that, and that's probably as much as half our business. That's been difficult, but as far as our weekends go, we've been really blessed. I didn't know what to expect when we opened up."

Boeckmann said events like Saturday's Spooktacular and other outdoor fall events give people an opportunity to do something fun.

"People were cooped up, and a lot of things have been canceled," Boeckmann said. "Since other events are canceled, they're looking for places to go with their families and this is a place where they can come and spread out and have a good time."

One popular fall event, the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival, did fall victim to the pandemic. The festival's organizers announced in August that the annual event would not be taking place.

It was only the second time the event, which draws more than 40,000 people to Hartsburg each year, has been canceled since 1991.

Fischer said he and his family are grateful for the community's support of their business, despite the pandemic.

"The community has really supported us and come out on the weekend," he said. "I'm glad people feel comfortable and safe coming here, and I think it gives people a break for a few hours."

Westphalia Trading Co. will be open next weekend for more fall fun, and Fischer Farms plans to end its season after the first weekend in November, weather permitting.

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