Leafy labyrinth leaves walkers happily amazed Benefit: The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks has created a maze in a cornfield. Profits are used to send needy children to camps and classes.

September 21, 1997|By Fay Lande | Fay Lande,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It might not be as impressive as the labyrinth at Cnossus, but the 6.7-acre maze cut out of a 10-acre cornfield in Glenwood in vTC Howard County is considerably more cheerful than the underground paths that led so many to their doom at the hands of the mythical Minotaur in ancient Crete.

Here, children run between the cornrows, and the atmosphere is downright festive.

"This way or that way?"

"Are you sure?"

A birthday party troops past.

"We're just doing this for fun," a mother says. "Careful of the people, please!"

Other parents smile and trudge along behind, all part of the "A-Maize-ingly Big Event," put on by Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks to raise money for scholarships to its camps and classes.

The paths are dusty from the summer's drought and, in some places, the corn that should be 8 to 10 feet tall is only waist high. Standing on the hard-packed paths, you can see the heads -- and sometimes more -- of the maze-wanderers through the cornstalks.

Country music helps to set the mood. "I'm in love with you, baby," blares from speakers across the hot field, "I don't need to know your name."

An orange and black butterfly floats up from the parched corn silk.

Surrounding the maze are the rolling fields and scattered houses of western Howard. And overhead, if you're lucky, a blue sky with puffy white clouds.

You enter through a narrow pathway that leads to a wall of corn. A volunteer hands you a baffling map -- a drawing of crossed paths and dead-ends -- and a stalk of corn tied with a flag of yellow tape, to wave in case of distress.

Pam Seybold of Ellicott City and Bill Kerrigan of Catonsville, both wearing electric orange caps, patrol the paths, two of the official keepers of the maze. There are clues at each turning point, they say, smiling, but they won't say what they are.

A small sign marks the first important turn: "The average U.S. resident eats the equivalent of 3 pounds of corn each day in the form of poultry or dairy products," it reads.

Go figure.

Dan McNamara, parks specialist with the Department of Recreation and Parks, stands on a high platform under two beach umbrellas at the maze's center.

"I love it," he says.

Most people take 30 to 40 minutes to get through the maze, he explained.

"There were people that were out 1 1/2 hours," he says. "They were just enjoying it -- leisurely walking, taking their time, getting lost and relost."

Dead-ends included, the total distance is about two miles.

More than 400 people went through on opening day, Sept. 13, he said.

Flushed with sun and enthusiasm, McNamara displays an aerial snapshot of the maze. Except for its color -- a delicate green -- it resembles the maze drawings that children follow with pencils across the pages of Sunday newspapers.

McNamara brought the idea for the maze home from a visit to a similar puzzle constructed in corn in Shippensburg, Pa.

"I liked it up there, so we figured, why not bring it home?" he says. So he mentioned it to Barbara Lett, recreation and parks special events coordinator.

Lett researched mazes on the Internet. The Shippensburg maze was cut in the shape of Noah's ark. Another maze -- sponsored by Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Mich. -- was shaped like a Model T.

And closer to home, another privately sponsored maze in Harford County featured the county's major roads and the words, "Got Milk."

But the recreation and parks staff decided to stay with the right-angled geometry of a traditional English garden maze.

Lett hired Bruce Brendall, a Glenwood farmer who rents the land from the county, to grow the corn for the maze. He plowed under his original crop to plant it.

Riemer Muegge and Associates Inc., a Columbia engineering and surveying company, designed the paths for free, and produced the map of the single correct route on its computer.

The company's staff took surveying instruments, a tape measure and yellow vinyl caution tape to the cornfield, and recreation and parks workers followed, pulling the cornstalks by hand.

It took five people five days to pull the corn, McNamara says. "It turned out exactly as we had planned."

Jeannette Kasnia of Sykesville said this is her fourth maze. "The kids love the mazes," she adds. "It wears them out."

Luke Sweeney, 2, of Baltimore County is a good example. "Too much corn," he cries from his father's arms, tears flowing.

But a few minutes later, around the corner, he's hunkered down on the path with a snack, surrounded by his parents and 4-year-old brother, and the tears have dried.

Joe Bharwada, business manager at RWD Technologies in Columbia, says it's more fun without the map.

"Good relaxation," is his verdict.

And Kalpana Parikh of Kings Contrivance village in Columbia, finds all the confusion familiar.

Did she see anything like this in her native India?

"Every day," she answers. "The regular roads are like a maze."

The country song is coming to a close. "I am married to a waitress," it croons, "and I don't even know her name."

Ready to leave, and heading toward the tents with food, picnic tables and games -- the Froggy Flop, Pumpkin Bash, hayrides and a straw maze for the little children -- Steve and Chris Geibel of Glenelg sum it up:

It was fun, they say.

Their 3-year-old son, Jordy, led the way.

The maze, in Western Regional Park at Route 97 and Carrs Mill Road, is open from noon to 5 p.m. today, Saturday and Sept. 28. Admission is $5 at the gate; $1 for the straw maze.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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