The Strangest Year
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our 2020 season. Even in the earliest days, in our initial stages of fear and uncertainty, we realized that fall was going to be very different. We suspected that there was simply no way to have the kind of fall season that we’ve always had: our entire business model is built upon big fall weekends with lots of people, food, wagon rides, and hundreds of people in the maze at any given time. In other words, crowds. We’ve always given lots of thought to keeping lines moving and spreading people out, but it’s not a model that is adaptable to keeping everyone six feet apart.
Like many people in the spring and early summer of 2020, we experienced a sense of loss. We can’t have wagon rides because there’s no way to space people out. And what about food lines? People crowding around the Prize Station? Kids waiting to go down the slides? Field trips?
We did hold out some hope. Maybe things will be a lot better this fall. (However, as a veterinarian, I know a lot about viruses and epidemiology, and I’m an avid reader of medical and scientific journals–so the rational part of my brain did not engage in such wishful thinking…) And throughout the summer, the news became more dire as Covid cases rose in Wisconsin.
We don’t want to have a fall season that is just a sad, pale shadow of what we’ve always done. We don’t want to be constantly thinking about what might have been if the virus hadn’t happened. We also don’t want to be a source of further misery: we will absolutely not be responsible for a super-spreader event, and we will do everything we can to keep staff and visitors safe.
So, we’ve had to dig deep and think about what our business means and what it can become. What do people need right now? What do we need from our business? What can we do to bring some happiness into the world right now–and to provide enough income for us to keep doing this, hopefully for years to come?
We are anticipating a peaceful, chill kind of season, where visitors can enjoy the outdoors and feel safe. People can bring their “bubble” and enjoy time together. Or they may be able to safely reconnect with friends and loved ones in an outdoor setting with plenty of room for social distancing. We are all craving ways to connect in person, and being outdoors is the safest way to do that.
Attendance will be limited, especially on the usually busy October weekends. One of our goals is to be able to remain open in a safe manner. We are trying hard to anticipate and eliminate “choke-points”, where lines and crowding may form. We are also reducing staff contact with visitors–this is actually a very painful decision on our part, because we strive very hard to have as much personal contact with our visitors as possible. However, all that face-to-face contact (especially the maze explanation, prize station, and wagon rides) puts everyone at risk.
At this point, we are anticipating that we will not have some of the most popular attractions, such as the Pumpkin Slingshot, the Hay Mow play area, and the horse-drawn wagon rides–so we are trying to add some attractions that are amenable to social distancing. We are still gathering ideas–so keep thinking and let us know what you come up with!
We are also trying (through the website and social media) to make sure visitors know what to expect and why we are doing what we are doing.
We are adding hiking paths and several wooded areas for exploration. We have about 70 wooded acres, and when we graze the horses in those areas, they create an extensive network of “desire paths.” (Desire paths are made when humans or animals create a path that is not an “official” route, as a sidewalk is.) People can hike on our “official” wide-open, easy to navigate trails, but if they like, they can also explore the informal, winding trails made by the horses’ desires. (Desire paths are also a metaphor for our 2020 season: the “official” path, the one we’ve always taken, is not available to us this year, so we will have to make new paths–which may honestly end up to be very interesting and unexpected and awesome in their own regard.)
We also have a gorgeous bluff that overlooks the entire valley. In that area, we have preserved and restored a remnant prairie, as well as an oak grove with two hundred year old bur oaks. This overlook is definitely worth the twenty minute hike up the hill, and we have created a picnic area there. Other trails lead to shady picnic spots, rolling pasture land, the shores of the pond, and to many hidden corners of the farm.
The base of the hill is wooded and perfect for kids to explore. There is a spooky culvert (if you don’t mind spiders….), plenty of materials to build a fort with, walking sticks, rocks to scramble over. In the adjacent Enchanted Woods, kids can look for fairy doors and tree faces. We have always been huge fans of “natural play” and time for simple exploration, and this is the year for us to further develop and promote this feature of the farm.
I’m working on some other ideas that may include map reading and other activities that may encourage use of these natural areas. We are also working on another small maze cut into a grassy area, yard games to play, and several other ideas that visitors might enjoy. I think this entire season will require creativity, invention, and letting go of what we thought was going to happen so that we can find a new path.
I hope to see many of you here this year. Treinen Farm visitors are the best!