TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - For the past 13 years, Exploration Acres has drawn crowds from all over the state. Whether it's to see the award winning corn maze, school groups going on a field trip, to take home a pumpkin or just to enjoy some fall time family fun. However, this year will be unlike any other.
"We've got the best pumpkin crop we've ever had and our maze looks terrific this year," said Tim Fitzgerald, Owner of the family farm.
The one thing that has gone right in 2020 for Exploration Acres is the weather, helping to provide a beautiful crop. However, that's about where the good luck has ended.
"We refunded probably 16 weddings this year," he said. "It wasn't until July that we actually had one of our first weddings."
The cancellation were all due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns. Despite this, Fitzgerald is staying optimistic and is trying to be as proactive as he can in an ever-changing situation.
He has turned his focus to the fall and reopening safely. The corn maze each year is a main attraction, and has won awards from the USA Today Readers Choice Maze contest. He hopes his corn maze this year will inspire unity.
"It just so happens that this is the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima," he said, reminiscing on a recent trip to Washington D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery that impacted him.
So he dedicated the maze this year to World War II vets and to all who have served our country. The maze depicts the iconic photograph of the American flag being raised by soldiers at Iwo Jima. Photo below provided by Tim Fitzgerald.
It also has the emblems of the five original branches of the military: Army, Air force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy. He said Space Force hadn't come out with its logo yet at the time. And the maze is also including one group of workers who have been crucial this year.
"I made a last minute decision before we actually planted the maze this year to add the medical emblem in there," he said. "So that we are paying homage to those who are going in everyday on the front lines that are nurses and doctors helping our patients with COVID-19."
Keeping his guests and staff safe from the disease is also on his mind. Fitzgerald has a reopening plan already drafted and ready for approval by the county health department. He said it has to be submitted about a week leading up to the planned September 18th opening date. He said he will be sharing the plan on the Exploration Acres social media platforms once it's approved. Part of the plan is a mask requirement.
"There are parts of the farm where they may be able to take the mask off, for instance when they are in the pumpkin patch and if they are as a family unit and they are far away from everybody else," he said. "But if you are going to ride a hayride you are going to be required to wear a mask."
He also has a reserve of foaming hand sanitizer that will be placed throughout the farm, and plans to have staff regularly sanitize surfaces. He acknowledged that things could change drastically with the COVID-19 situation between now and the planned opening date, but he said he is ready to make the necessary changes to the plan needed to ensure that people can enjoy what the farm has to offer this fall.
"Somehow some way manage to safely open this year, this could be a good year," he said. "I really think a lot of people would enjoy coming out to the farm because we are an open air, outdoor activity."
Fitzgerald is urging people to buy their tickets online so there will be as little contact with the ticket sales employees as possible. Online ticket sales begin on September 1st. Click here to get the link to buy your tickets online.
The corn maze is also entered in the USA Today contest again this year, so he is encouraging people to vote for their maze before the August 24th deadline. Click here to cast your vote.
He said they most likely won't be hosting large school field trip groups like in past years. However he said he will have plenty of small pumpkins for any teachers who want to use them in their classroom or as gifts for students. He said to contact him so that educators can work out a deal for selling them pumpkins.