Family-oriented, educational activities available at the new Pumpkindom
By Lauren Zaepfel
A Western New York tradition is making a comeback this year, and with it comes new experiences and different offerings for the community.
"The Maize" attraction at 3901 Niagara Falls Blvd., in the Town of Wheatfield, has been around since 2001, with its last season ending in 2012 after the owner was in the process of selling the land.
However, the attraction's organizer, Traci Garland, said, eventually, "The land deal fell through. So, we spoke to the owner and that's how we're back."
Garland and her family had since moved to Indiana. She heard the news of the sale falling through from her former staff members after they read it in the paper.
Now, her original staff members have grown from young teens to adults and have children of their own, most 5 years old or younger. Garland said she thought, "How do we get to see all those kids and their children?"
To do this, Garland said she decided to provide children's activities instead of just offering the "The Maize," which has always been suited for high school and college kids.
That's when she decided to offer both "The Maize" and other family-oriented children's activities in order to appeal the masses.
Thus, Pumpkindom and a slew of family-oriented activities were created.
Free activities in the Pumpkindom, located in a field beside "The Maize" area, include tug-of-war, tether ball, cornball court, cornyard games, barnyard billiards and farm animal croquet - "all kinds of things to keep you active," Garland said.
Other activities offered for ticket prices (ranging from a single $1 ticket to an $18 pass offering unlimited access to all attractions) include a 65-foot bounce pumpkin pad, hayrides, pumpkin carriage rides, a corn cannon, pumpkin decorating and the iconic Sabretooth slide.
The iconic Sabretooth slide stands tall along the site at Niagara Falls Boulevard among other attractions. (Photo by Lauren Zaepfel)
Several food stations (most newly introduced) will offer a variety of meal and snack options for purchase, from kettle corn, s'mores, homemade lemonade and cider, to smoked turkey legs, pretzels, baked goods and sweet potato fries.
A new children's "Spookley" maze will also be offered for the first time, named after the anti-bullying mascot "Spookley the Square Pumpkin," based off Joe Troiano's book "The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin" and the Holiday Hill Farm film "Spookley the Square Pumpkin."
The Spookley maze features nine stations "all about anti-bullying that parents can discuss with their children," Garland said.
To top off the new children and family experiences, a Family Fun Fest will be offered every Saturday and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Featured will be story time, kids karaoke, balloon art, free games and prizes and face painting.
Meet-and-greets with superheroes, including Spider-Man and Captain America, will be available.
Ponies based from actual Disney characters from movies including "Frozen," "Brave" and "Tangled" will accompany Disney princesses for meet-and-greets as well.
To mix in with the fun, Garland wanted to incorporate agricultural education into her activities, something she has done in past years.
This is accomplished through games and questions relating to agriculture and sustaining a farm to advance through the mazes or other activities to win prices.
Specialized school programs for different grade levels (from day care to high school) are also offered through various tools such as "wise acres" signs, which provide information from how to grow pumpkins or corn to why bees are important to the environment.
All in all, Garland said, "We want to have an event where no one feels restricted. ... We want them to be able to bring their kids out and enjoy fall and learn something and get them off that sofa. And then if they want to spend money, they can."
Assistant manager Beth Sharry echoed this philosophy and said, "All are welcome and we want everyone to feel comfortable with our staff, with our games. So, we have a variety of activities for all age groups (and) everyone has something to do. Everyone is going to come here and feel included."
She added, "To have this family offer the Buffalo community a safe, fun and family-oriented location for a fall festival is amazing. We are not haunted. We don't do anything scary. We don't do anything like that. We really want it to be family-friendly."
Happy to be back in action, Sharry said Wheatfield serves as a great location for the attraction because, whether visitors come from Erie or Niagara counties, "We are right here in the center. We are so convenient for all our patrons to come. ... You can't miss us."
The attractions are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays and Monday through Thursdays, and from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Admission and parking are free. The advanced mazes are currently open.
For more information on ticket options and pricing, activities and events, call 716-523-3860 or visit www.wnymaize.com.
Shown is an aerial shot of "The Maize." The cornfield has been transformed into three mazes that make up an image of the Pumpkindom Castle.