Curtis Orchard: An autumn tradition for C-U

By Sara Garcia

The sweet smell of caramel apples, fresh doughnuts and pumpkin pie wafts through the door of the general store at Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch. For a brief second, all worries can be forgotten.

Many of the people visiting the orchard, families from Champaign and students from the University, said they were smitten by the lure of the orchard’s simple pleasures.

With the Halloween weekend quickly approaching, people are flocking to Curtis to hand-pick their pumpkins. Both families and students relish the traditional carving of pumpkins into scary, funny or goofy faces.

“Lots of University students come in groups or with clubs,” said Kelly Flanigan, a Curtis employee and a Centennial High School student.

Flanigan said she has been working at the orchard for approximately a month and a half and loves her job. One of her favorite parts of the job is getting to see all the pumpkins every day. She said the biggest pumpkin at the orchard is 143 pounds.

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Two University students, Sarah Pittenger and Sky Andrecheck, were leaving the orchard with donuts and apples Wednesday evening.

“I love fall, and this place really has a country style,” said Pittenger, a sophomore in LAS. She said the orchard reminded her of a place she goes to at home.

“It’s nice to get away from city life,” said Andrecheck, a graduate student. Both Andrecheck and Pittenger said they love the “homey” atmosphere Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch provides.

The Curtis family has owned the orchard since 1956, said Joyce Curtis.

“My favorite part about the orchard is working with my grandkids and the other great employees,” Curtis said. She said that many people have been purchasing pumpkins and taking them home to carve them.

“People come back here because we provide a safe environment for the children and it’s a fun place to make traditions,” Curtis said.

In addition to pumpkins and apples, the orchard has a petting zoo, a giant slide, pony rides, trail rides and a giant corn maze.

The entrance to the area where the petting zoo is located is guarded by painted wooden signs decorated to look like characters from the Wizard of Oz. The lion has a sign that encourages children to enter: “Have courage-meet the animals! Try the maze!”

Some University students may only have four years to enjoy the orchard, but families from the surrounding area return year after year.

“We’ve been coming here since she was little,” said Tina Mumm, as she pointed to her daughter Brooke, a freshman at Parkland Junior College. Tina said that Curtis is a much better place to shop than a grocery store because of the fun atmosphere and the fact that people can pick their own apples and pumpkins.

The orchard also provides three different themed parties. The Emerald City Party features a wagon ride around the orchard; two hours in a landscaped party area with picnic tables, utensils, apples and apple cider; tickets for attractions such as the giant slide, giant jungle maze, pony rides and trail rides, and a party host. The Awesome Oz Party is the same as the Emerald City Party but also includes pictures, pizza or hot dogs, a birthday cake and gift bags. The Yellow Brick Road Party features two hours of a private party area.

Curtis Apple Orchard and Pumpkin Patch provides more than just apples and pumpkins. They provide an environment that allows people to relax, enjoy the country atmosphere and create traditions. Not just a place for children, the orchard is a place for all ages, with an emphasis on children at heart.

“The Ruby Slippers maze is reason enough to come,” Pittenger said.