July 26, 2017

Deal’s Orchard has become Disneyland — in more ways than just making kids’ dreams come true.

There’s literally no place left for the popular agri-entertainment complex just west of Jefferson to expand, “unless we take out apple trees,” Cindy Deal said.

That, as you might imagine, defeats the purpose.

For years, the Deals have eyed the land across K Avenue for expansion, not unlike when Walt Disney started buying up Florida swampland for what would become Disney World.

But how do you get crowds safely back and forth without making them cross a road?

The answer?

Go under it.

By Labor Day weekend, a pedestrian walkway tunnel underneath K Avenue will connect the present Deal’s Orchard site with what will be expanded amenities, according to Deal.

“It will be just like Living History Farms going under Interstate 35,” Deal said.

“It’s not exactly the same,” she clarified. “It’s a smaller scale.”

The Greene County Engineer’s Office will do the bulk of the work, County Engineer Wade Weiss said, with assistance from Pemble Digging and Drainage Service.

The county will be installing a 10-foot culvert under the gravel road, Weiss said, at the county’s expense.

All other costs, he said, will be the Deals’ responsibility.

K Avenue — the main road to the orchard off Old Highway 30 — will be closed to traffic for only about a week, Weiss said.

What might seem like a unique engineering feat is actually routine for Weiss’ office.

“It’s the same 10-foot culvert we put in for carrying water,” he said.

This year marks 100 years since Frank Deal planted the site’s first apple trees as a part-time hobby.

The family’s 45 acres of apple trees now bear more than 25 varieties of apples.

Jerald Deal — Frank’s grandson — and wife Cindy have expanded the operation to include a Christmas tree farm and Apple Acres, a family fun zone with a jumping pillow, giant slides, a human hamster wheel and more.

The orchard’s Fall Festival, held annually the second weekend in October since 1982, can draw upwards of 15,000 people.

Middle son Chris Deal and his wife, Tracy, have owned the land to the west of Apple Acres since 2012, making expansion possible.

“We still want to be a production facility first,” Chris Deal said. “We don’t want to lose sight that we’re an apple orchard first.”

Still, it’s hoped that more amenities to the west — activities for adults and older kids, including pedal go-karts, along with places to have campfires — will entice people to visit the orchard at other times besides Fall Festival.

“Fall Festival is maxed-out,” Cindy Deal said. “We really can’t handle more people.”

Even after all these years, though, those crowds still floor Cindy Deal.

“We’re a little surprised people come here as a destination,”  she said. “We’re just an old family business.”

So was Disney.