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Playing in the Pumpkin Patch: Carter’s fall festival features American frontier legends

The Carter family gathers around their gigantic pumpkins -- soon to be carved into boats for the 2017 Pumpkin Party season. Tony and Linda Carter are masterminds of the merriment, with help from children Susanna and Luke. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)

Everything families love about autumn is rolled into one during the pumpkin parties held at Carter's Red Wagon Farm.

The fall festival continues this Saturday and on Saturdays through October, plus Thursday and Friday, Oct. 19 and 20. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Visitors from Rochester to Duluth to Crookston travel to the family-friendly farm for the annual event. Attendance increases each year.

"It's steadily growing, and thankfully not by leaps and bounds," said co-owner Linda Carter. She and husband Tony are the hard-working creators of the festival.

All told, close to 7,000 people attended last year.

"We had over 2,000 alone on MEA Saturday. It was just a crazy weekend," she recalled. "While it's fun to come out with other people, on that weekend you've just got lines. Especially if you're in the area, we really encourage people to avoid that Saturday."

"Discount Days" are designed to steer guests toward other Saturdays.

Licensed day care and school groups are welcome, by appointment, on Oct. 6, 12 or 27.

Active, inactive and retired service members will receive a discount on Military Appreciation Days (today, Oct. 19 or Oct. 28.) A valid military ID is required.

Each year, the pumpkin festival incorporates a historical theme. This year, it's "American Frontier Legends."

"We give people a little bit of history about Davy Crockett. We found out kids hardly know who he is," Tony said.

"A lot of high school kids know that he died in The Alamo and that's it. Ask them who Daniel Boone is or Johnny Appleseed and they give you a blank stare, but they know Paul Bunyan," Linda said.

"Doing research for this maze, I've never really taken an interest in history before, but you run across so many interesting things you've never heard before. Why don't we hear about these? They're really fascinating stories," Tony said.

He integrates those fun facts into the corn maze.

The Maze of Mirth is sometimes overlooked by visitors, according to the Carters. It's a mini-maze for those who are "directionally challenged" and don't dare attempt the grand, six-acre version. About 30 to 40 jokes and riddles guide visitors through the half-acre, straightforward maze.

Tony has steadily worked on a multi-level "play barn," complete with turret, for three years.

"I do it in my spare time and there's not much spare time," he said. The Carters are kept busy growing vegetables, strawberries, alfalfa, corn and pasture on about 180 acres.

The play barn officially opened mid-season last year. This fall, the castle-like structure features a new, 35-foot "super slide" and a bridge leading to a 10-foot-by-10-foot tree deck.

Additional restroom facilities, including a diaper-changing station, have been added this year.

"I'm doubling the number of outhouses," Tony said.

On any given day, Carter's Red Wagon Farm employs between 25 to 40 paid crewmembers — from actors to parking attendants.

Admission price includes an interactive, Davy Crockett-themed wagon ride, straw bale maze, 6.5-acre corn maze, giant pumpkin boats, barrel train, crow shoot, Nerf crossbow wars, pumpkin propeller and much more. Children two and under are free.

Group rates are available for 10 or more people, but arrangements must be made in advance.

A variety of concessions are available or pack a picnic lunch. Pitty Pat's will offer homemade soups, funnel cakes, hand-dipped cheese curds and more. BBQ Smokehouse from Wadena will also be onsite, along with Spurlin Enterprise's flavored coffees, shaved ice, kettle corn and more.

Pumpkins, squash, gourds, Minnesota orchard apples from Pine Tree Apple Orchard, and many other items are available in the gift store.

Illusionist ImagiNick performs today (Saturday), Sept. 30, Oct. 7, 21 and 28. Calvin Gunn will make special appearances Oct. 14, 19 and 20.

Due to insurance limitations, alcohol, weapons, smoking and pets are prohibited on the grounds. Official service animals are allowed.

For more information, call 732-4979 or visit www.redwagonfarm.net or their Facebook page.

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