The cool weather and the crunch of autumn leaves seems to bring people outside for harvest and Halloween activities. Howard County's many farms and nature centers celebrate this cozy and colorful time of year with hayrides, pumpkin-picking, hay-bale and cornfield mazes, scarecrow-making and other seasonal fun.
"It's our busiest time of year," said Nora Crist of Clark's Elioak Farm on Route 108 in Ellicott City.
This year, consider taking an evening hayride at Larriland Farm, complete with stories and songs around a campfire. Or enter your little ones in a costume contest at Clark's. Or challenge yourself in the 10-acre cornfield maze at Sharp's at Waterford Farm.
Below is a list of Howard County's best-loved open spaces, and their autumn activities.
Clark's Elioak Farm, 10500 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City, 410-730-4049, http://www.clarklandfarm.com. This popular petting farm, on land owned by the Clark family since 1797, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Nov. 6.
On Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, children who bring a teddy bear to the farm can get a free hay ride. There also will be teddy bear contests at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on both days.
The weekends of Oct. 13-14 and 20-21 will feature gem-mining and geode-cracking from Mobile Mining Experience, fun and educational programs that teach youngsters about gems and minerals when they buy buckets filled with enriched ore and use Clark's water flume to uncover the gems they contain. Also on those weekends, food will be provided by CJ's Pit Beef, cider and pumpkins will be sold, and face painting will be offered.
On Oct. 27 and 28, youngsters can arrive in Halloween costumes for the costume contests that will be held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. both days. There also will be hayrides to the pumpkin patch and an enhanced Mobile Mining Experience.
Post-Halloween, Clark's special catapult will be used the weekend of Nov. 3 and 4 for "punkin chunkin," a fun chance to watch those pumpkins fly through the air and smash.
Larriland Farm, 2415 Woodbine Road, Woodbine, 301-854-6110, http://www.pickyourown.com. Larriland's apple trees and pumpkin patches are ready for autumn harvesting. The barn is filled with goodies for sale, and the property is decorated with witches, scarecrows and monsters.
On October weekends, visitors can pick apples and pumpkins, enjoy fresh-pressed cider and sign up for hayrides. Young children will enjoy making their way through the straw-bale maze and visiting the not-too-scary Boo Barn. Also available are evening hayrides, followed by stories and songs around a campfire.
Sharp's at Waterford Farm, 4003 Jennings Chapel Road Brookeville, 410-489-2572, http://www.sharpfarm.com.
October weekends at Sharp's are "very festive," said manager Cheryl Nodar, with activities including a 10-acre educational corn maze, this year cut into the shape of a cotton plant to mark the first year the farm has planted cotton. Participants read signs about cotton production and answer true or false questions as they go, gaining clues about which path to follow.
The "Life of a Farmer" program is being offered Oct 6 and Oct. 19. Participants can feed the animals, enjoy a hayride, take classes on beekeeping and cotton-growing, and pick a pumpkin, ear of popping corn and boll of cotton to take home. Also on Oct. 6, the Iron Bridge Hounds fox hunt is expected to cross the property at 11 a.m. On both Oct. 6 and Oct. 7, narrated hayrides will depart at 1 p.m.
Hayrides, pumpkin-picking and the corn maze are offered all October weekends. The season ends with Pilgrim History days, Nov. 2 through Nov. 16, featuring guides in Pilgrim dress, who explain what life was like for Pilgrim families.
Triadelphia Lake View Farm, 15155 Triadelphia Mill Road, Glenelg, 410-489-4460, http://www.tlvtreefarm.com, has hay rides, a children's corn maze and pumpkin patches during October. On Oct. 6, visitors can learn about 4-H from participants. Visitors are urged to bring a teddy bear on Oct. 13, arrive in cowboy or cowgirl gear on Oct. 20, and wear their Halloween costumes Oct. 27. Farm activities and the pumpkin patch are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekend days.
Howard County Conservancy, 10520 Old Frederick Road Woodstock, 410-465-8877, http://www.hcconservancy.org, is hosting a Fall Festival Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with pony rides, crafts people, hay rides, music, and locally grown food. Master Gardeners will show visitors how to compost and get gardens ready for spring and blacksmiths will demonstrate their art.
Living Farm Heritage Museum, 12985 Frederick Road, West Friendship, http://www.farmheritage.org, is offering three-mile haunted hay rides it says are "not for the faint-hearted." The rides depart from the museum, across from the Howard County Fairgrounds, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on October 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, taking victims, er, participants through three miles of dark woods, with costumed actors doing scary stuff. There will be a concession stand, and fog is OK but the rides will be canceled for storms or steady rain. The cost is $15 per person.
Central Maryland Research and Education Center, Clarksville Facility, 4240 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City, 301-596-9330, http://agresearch.umd.edu/RECs/CMREC/Clarksville/index.cfm. The University of Maryland facility is holding a free open house Saturday, Oct., 6 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with educational and interactive displays, food for sale, hay-wagon tours, hands-on activities and a Master Gardener on hand to answer questions.
Robinson Nature Center, 6692 Cedar Lane, Columbia, 410- 313-0400, http://www.co.ho.md.us/RobinsonNatureCenter.htm. Howard County's one-year-old nature center is hosting an archaeology workshop Saturday, Oct. 6. Participants ages 10 and older will help excavate a real archaeological site, finding clues to life in the mill town once known as Simpsonville. Registration required, 20 people per session, $20 per person, $15 group rate.