Isabel goes against the grain, forcing farm's corn maze to close

Winds snapped stalks at Arundel attraction

October 03, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

For three years, Horizon Organic Farm's Amaizing Organic Corn Maze has challenged visitors with its three-mile entanglement of paths.

But this year, Tropical Storm Isabel threw the cornfield maze a challenge: high winds and torrential rains that snapped most of the 14 acres of cornstalks at their base.

Days before the maze was scheduled to open for the fall with its new design, a chocolate-milk carton, farm officials announced that it would remain closed for the rest of the year. It will reopen next fall, assuming the weather cooperates.

"It's unrecoverable. It's a loss for us," said Cindy Edson, the farm's marketing director.

The maze, typically open September and October, is one of the Gambrills farm's biggest attractions, drawing an average of 600 visitors a weekend, Edson said.

October is usually the maze's biggest month, with activities such as hayrides and pumpkin picking on the minds of many schoolchildren. Though visits to the 875-acre farm and its petting zoo are free, the farm charges for the maze - $8 for adults and $5 for children.

The maze was scheduled to open Sept. 6, but an August storm with strong winds bent the stalks, so farm officials decided to delay the opening until Sept. 20. Before Isabel hit, the stalks had almost righted themselves.

But the most recent storm's strength bent and then snapped most of the cornstalks, which sit across Route 175 from the farm. It takes 60 to 90 days to grow the corn, so replanting wasn't an option, Edson said. And though farm officials contemplated planting a smaller version, they decided against it.

"At the end of the day, we wanted to do it right," Edson said.

Corn mazes have become increasingly popular in recent years, starting as a way for farmers to earn a little extra at harvest's end and becoming a phenomenon drawing city and suburban visitors to hundreds of mazes nationwide. Last year, there were more than a dozen in driving distance of Baltimore.

Other corn mazes also suffered at Isabel's hands. The Chincoteague Corn Maze in Horntown, Va., was devastated by the hurricane, and a recorded message said the maze might not reopen. Bowles Farm in St. Mary's County was more fortunate. A thunderstorm before Isabel knocked the maze down, but farmers were able to rebuild it and it will open this weekend.

"It's not quite as tall as we would like," said Myrtle McWilliams, who works in the farm's office, "but it's up."

Of the local mazes, Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville might have had the easiest rebuilding process. Its maze is made of straw bales, and they just had to be straightened a bit.

Aside from a few branches falling, Horizon suffered no other damage, and the rest of its events remain on the schedule.

This weekend, the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts will hold a program called "Cultivating the Arts," which will feature music, pumpkin carving and scarecrow-making workshops. Trails Xscream, a fright-fest featuring a hayride and haunted house, is held every weekend this month.

Still, the maze is a main attraction for visitors to the farm - which was the Naval Academy's dairy farm for about 100 years, until the academy decided to get out of the dairy farming business in 1999. The farm is now run by Horizon, a Colorado-based company, under a 20-year lease.

"We loved it. I definitely planned on going back. I kind of figured I would go in a week or two," said Mary Keefer, a Severn resident visiting the farm this week. She had brought her 3-year-old, Hope, to the maze last year.

Because Hope enjoyed watching the flowers and bugs and touching the corn cobs, Keefer said she would look for another maze to take her daughter to.

Crofton resident Jacquie Newell, who visited the farm this week with a mothers group and 11 children, said she and her family had been looking forward to visiting the maze this year. Instead, she said, she would try to take 4-year-old Kenny and 3-year-old Niki to a smaller maze.

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