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Social distancing - pumpkin style!

Plant it and people will come for the pickin’!

This has been the motto at Mulberry Pond Pumpkin Patch for the last 10 years and owners Merle and Staci Charles said they had no choice but to forge full steam ahead for the 2020 season despite concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We decided we just needed to plant the pumpkins and see what happens,” Merle said. “We thought, if anything we could set the pumpkins up by the road with a donation jar to sell.”

The planting occurred several months ago and the pumpkins are ripe and ready for the upcoming fall season at Mulberry Pond, which is located east of Hiawatha, just about a half mile south at the Mulberry Road exit. But Merle and Staci are planning more than selling pumpkins on the road — they are opening up the pumpkin patch with a few additional guidelines in place this fall.

Signs will be posted promoting social distancing and “Keeping one cow apart,” as a recommendation. She said they are not requiring masks, as all events are outdoors.

“Many people come with their own family groups,” she said. “So we don’t think we need to separate people, however we are encouraging these groups to keep their distance from others.”

The line to purchase tickets, along with laser tag, will have marked spacing between groups and they plan to have smaller groups on the wagon rides and limit the number of people inside of the gift shop. Staci said they will offer hand sanitizer at every station.

But otherwise, it’s full steam ahead with sunflowers blooming and an acre of pumpkins ready to be picked.

Life is different for Merle and Staci now — when they started Mulberry Pond as a “small pumpkin patch” and fall get away for local families 10 years ago both were busy with with jobs and spent evenings and weekends working at the pond. Staci was a middle school teacher and Merle had a busy job at Ag Partners. They had a house in town — the historic Mulberry Pond was their get away — and the couple had a dream to one day build a home there.

An old brick home sits atop the hill overlooking the pond to the south — 150 years old to be more exact. The homestead was built by John Moser (pronounced Moss-er), a masonry from Switzerland, who moved to Brown County and first lived in a log cabin — since long gone — which was located east of the pond on adjacent land owner’s property. In 1870, Moser built the two-story brick farmhouse.

Fast forward to 2020. The brick farmhouse still proudly stands at the top of the hill and has undergone many repairs thanks to handyman Merle. It now houses the Mulberry Pond Gift Shop and restrooms. On the other hill is the Charles’ dream home — built last year after Staci retired from teaching and the couple sold their house in town. They have a perfect view of the pond, which features peddle boats, canoes, a deck and slide for swimmers.

Occasionally the Charles rent out the pond and adjacent campground for family gatherings or people traveling through. Recently, one of the camp sites has been the home of a pair of local contractors staying in a camper while working locally.

The corn has turned a golden color and just northeast of the two homesteads about an acre is carved into a corn maze in preparation of this coming fall’s season. Just east is another acre full of several kinds of pumpkins — ready to be picked and sold weekends when the patch is open.

The Charles hire local high school and farm kids and help support area church youth groups and 4-H as well. Merle said it’s almost time for the season’s new and old hires to come out for their first day, which involves picking many pumpkins.

They have already had visitors at Mulberry as the Sunflower Patch has bloomed and was ready for photos. In addition to the pumpkin patch, tours around the pond on the barrel wagon or the big wagon, there are many fun adventures for the whole family that include laser tag, a playground, a variety of farm animals — including the friendly black lab Drifter, games, concessions and much more.

New this year is the story-telling stick tent — made entirely out of limbs with pumpkin vines growing up the sides. Staci said it is a great place for storytime!

“Nobody really knows what will happen — we just felt that we could still open up and offer the pumpkin patch to the community,” said Staci, noting they get groups and families, along with students and field trips, from all over Northeast Kansas as one of the few remaining pumpkin patches in the area. “As long as we are outdoors, we felt this was a pretty healthy activity to do.”

“I guess if things change and the state shuts down, then we have pumpkins for sale,” Merle added with a smile.

Opening weekend is Sept. 26-27 with Saturday hours from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday hours from 1-7 p.m. through Oct. 25. Find Mulberry Pond on Facebook for more information or contact numbers.

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Georgia man killed in fatality accident on US 75

A 35-year-old Georgia man was killed in an accident on U.S. 75 about 12 miles south of Fairview Tuesday evening.

According to a Kansas Highway Patrol report, Terry Robert Rush of Hiram, Ga., was driving a 20013 Avenger southbound on U.S. 75 Highway and was attempting to make a U-turn.

Edwardo Torres, 60, of Eagle Pass, Texas was driving a 2017 Kenworth semi southbound on U.S. 75 and struck Rush’s vehicle. Rush, who was wearing a seatbelt, was taken to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka with a fatal injury, according to the KHP report. An occupant in his vehicle, Mary Katherine McEwen, 37, of Topeka was taken to Stormont Vail Hospital with a suspected minor injury. She was also wearing a seatbelt.

Torres was uninjured, according to the KHP report, and was also wearing a seatbelt.

The highway was closed for several hours from K-9 Highway at Netawaka to 170th Road while emergency crews worked the scene.

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Two more COVID-related deaths bring county total to 3

Two additional COVID-19 related deaths have been announced this week, bringing the total to 3 in Brown County.

The Brown County Health Department announced the first death late last week — an individual over the age of 65. No additional information was available.

On Wednesday evening, the Health Department published an updated on cases with a notice that two additional deaths due to COVID-19 had been recorded in Brown County. Both residents were over 60 years of age, but no additional details will be given.

“We continue to urge our residents to protect themselves by staying home when they are ill, washing their hands often, practicing social distancing and wearing masks when they are unable to safely distance themselves from others,” read a statement from the Health Department.

County numbers had risen to 77 as of Wednesday evening, with a total of 1,271 total tests conducted and 2 currently hospitalized. Sixty-one patients had recovered.

In a breakdown of the case count by age:

age 0-9 — seven

age 10-17 — ten

age 18-24 — six

age 25-34 — nineteen

age 35-44 — seven

age 45-54 — nine

age 55-64 — eleven

age 65-74 — six

age 75-84 — one

age 85 and older — one

In statewide cases, there are 43,940 positive as of Wednesday evening with 2,361 hospitalizations and 458 statewide deaths. Negative tests total 375,307.

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HCC confirms positive COVID cases at Atchison, Wamego campuses

Highland Community College confirmed two positive cases of COVID-19 at off-campus locations earlier this week.

On Monday, HCC announced there was one confirmed positive case at the Atchison center and one confirmed case at Wamego.

The college said contact tracers from the local health departments were reaching out to students to determine whether in close contact with the individual who tested positive.

“If you are sick, please do not attend classes,” according to the statement issued on the college’s Facebook page. “Other illnesses are also going around such as strep and stomach flu. Please for the safety of all, wear a mask.”

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Fire marshal investigating garage fire

The State Fire Marshal is investigating a garage fire that occurred in the early morning hours of Tuesday in Hiawatha.

Hiawatha Fire Chief Gene Atland said the fire call came around 4 a.m. at 112 Kickapoo St., of a single-car garage on fire. He said someone driving by reported the fire.

When fire fighters arrived the garage was totally engulfed and mostly down on the ground from the blaze. He said the garage is a total loss. There was not a vehicle or any occupants inside at the time of the fire.

Atland said firefighters were on the scene about an hour and the Kansas State Fire Marshal is investigating a possible cause.