Festive autumn activities wrapping up for season

UW-Eau Claire students enjoy local apple orchards, pumpkin patches as a means of spending times with pals, soaking up autumn weather


Story by Courtney Kueppers, Projects Editor

Since 1988 the fruits of Jerry and Betty Harper’s labors have been apples.

The retired UW-Eau Claire psychology professor and his wife have made their home on a plot of land just a few miles south of Oakwood Mall on Hillview Road since 1972 and decided in the late ‘80s that their extra acreage would make for a scenic orchard.

Despite being 85 years old, Jerry Harper still works most of the calendar year preparing, pruning and grooming his orchard: Hillview Farm, E6198 Hickory Rd.

Thanks to rain levels and avoiding hail damage that struck other local growers, Harper said production levels were good this fall, noting their number one selling apple, per usual, was Honeycrisp, followed by Zestar and Cortland.

Sophomores Kenadie Mahlum and Billy Hinnenkamp took a trip last Saturday to Ferguson’s Orchards in Eau Claire to enjoy the fall weather and festive fun.
Sophomores Kenadie Mahlum and Billy Hinnenkamp took a trip last Saturday to Ferguson’s Orchards in Eau Claire to enjoy the fall weather and festive fun.

A trip to a local apple orchard or pumpkin patch is about as “fall” as it gets. It’s an activity for school- aged kids on field trips, grandparents with youngsters and everyone in between, Harper said, noting the orchard draws a diverse crowd, including university students.

Often donning flannel, oversized scarves and/or a puffy vest (bonus points for those who pull off all three in one fell swoop) college students seem to run to the activity for the perfect autumn Instagram and as a means to avoid studying on sunny Sunday afternoons.

“I like to enjoy the weather while it’s nice out,” sophomore education student Kenadie Mahlum said of why she likes to hit up apple orchards in the fall. “We’re actually having nice weather in Wisconsin and it’s going to get cold soon.”

Mahlum checked out Ferguson’s Orchards with her boyfriend and fellow Blugold sophomore, Billy Hinnenkamp, on the unseasonably warm Homecoming Saturday. Mahlum said the beautiful weather drew a large crowd to the orchard, and while that day was mostly families with tykes in tow, when she went earlier in the season more university students populated it.

Mahlum, a Mondovi native, spent the day snapping pictures, munching on Honeycrisps and a caramel apple and checking out the corn maze, all adding up to the perfect autumn afternoon at the orchard located about six miles south of the university, she said.

Graphic by Courtney Kueppers/The Spectator
Graphic by Courtney Kueppers/The Spectator

Senior Carly Heyram also took a trip to Ferguson’s Orchards this year with a few pals. Heyram said, “It was a nice little break from the hectic work and school week, but also it’s nice to get outdoors before it gets too cold.”

The Chippewa Valley countrysides are littered with orchards and pumpkin patches both big and small. Ferguson’s Orchards, 6470 Balsam Rd., a popular option for university students such as Mahlum and Heyran, grows 100,000 apples annually, according to their website. But other orchards are much smaller.

In Chippewa Falls, Steve Connell manages Connell’s Family Orchard, 19372 Co Hwy OO. He’s worked his entire life at the family business and said it’s their loyal customers and spending time outside that make the job worthwhile.

Despite being hit by hail earlier this year, Connell said the orchard still has a great selection of fruit, noting it’s a destination that offers fun for all ages.

At Connell’s there are wagon rides every weekend, pumpkins and a fully stocked bakery. With his brother by his side, Connell is the sixth-generation family member to run the show.

Students who lack a love for apples shouldn’t lose heart: there are other local ways to feel the fall fun. Govin’s Meats and Berries, east of Menomonie between Interstate 94 and Highway 12, has built an 11 acre corn maze, which from bird’s- eye view shows a giant picture of country star Garth Brooks.

Across the plethora of orchards, patches and mazes for students to explore, one theme prevails: fall is fleeting. Some orchards have already closed shop on pick your own apples and most all others will soon follow suit.

Come Halloween Jerry Harper will close his 28th season of operating Hillview Farm. With another year of apple-picking-pumpkin-loving-picture-taking visitors in the books, Harper will take November off before getting back to work on next year’s crop in hopes of filling next fall with the same picturesque fun.