Navigating a corn maze, trailblazing in tourism

Farm's 2 1/2 -mile attraction lures thousands of visitors

September 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Avery Meyers led the way for the other children. Although the corn stalks in the maze rose as high as 12 feet in some places, the 11-year-old boy wasn't intimidated.

"I think it's cool that you can't see over the top of the cornstalks," he said. "I don't need to. I've gotten really good at reading maze maps, and I just follow the intersections to get through it."

The Westminster boy was one of about 10 children, ages 5 to 13, who spent a recent afternoon rambling through the 6-acre maze at North Run Farm in the Stevenson area of Baltimore County.

The children were on a field trip for home-schooled students. The maze opens to the public for the season tomorrow.

The maze has about 2 1/2 miles of winding, twisting paths, and it takes about an hour to complete. The journey entails visiting six checkpoints, where hole punchers are tied to wooden posts to be used to punch out shapes across the bottom of the map.

"The checkpoints make completing the maze more of a challenge," said Brooke Rodgers, whose in-laws own the property and who, with her husband, Patrick, commissioned the maze.

She said more than 12,000 people - including many repeat customers - come to the farm each year for the maze.

Other activities at the farm include a mini-maze; a pick-your-own pumpkin patch with a 400-pound pumpkin; play boxes filled with corn, rather than sand; and a petting zoo with farm animals.

The idea for a cornfield maze originated in 2001, when Patrick Rodgers, who earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture resource economics at the University of Maryland, was looking for a way to diversify his farm business. After attending a corn maze convention in Madison, Wis., he decided to give it a try.

The Rodgerses commissioned Shawn Stolworthy, founder of MazePlay, an Idaho-based company that designs and cuts mazes, to create a maze at the family farm for the fall of 2002.

Stolworthy created a design - in the shape of a crab, when seen from the air - got approval from the Rodgerses and cut the maze. About the same time, Stolworthy was beginning to use a GPS mapping system to make the mazes more precise. Business boomed.

"The mazes became more popular than ever," Stolworthy said. "I had no idea the maze business was going to be as big as it is."

He attributes the growth to the need for small farmers to supplement their incomes.

"The market niche was already there for corn mazes when I got started," he said. "A lot of small farmers can't make it through the year just selling produce, so agritourism is a great way for them to get more from a small property."

Stolworthy cut mazes for the Rodgerses for the next four years. In 2003 the maze was in the shape of an eagle, in 2004 it was a farm theme, and last year it was shaped like a Ravens football helmet.

This year's maze is in the shape of a scarecrow holding pumpkins.

"Anyone with an interest can come and walk through the maze," said Brooke Rodgers. "And if they think attempting the maze in the daytime is too easy, they can come and try it at night."

The flashlight maze on Friday nights usually attracts about 600 people, Rodgers said.

Although some might think the height of the corn or the prospect of getting lost might deter some children from trying mazes, but Victoria Intine of Westminster said that's what makes them exciting.

"The tall corn makes me feel like I'm trapped in the maze and I can't get out," said the 11-year-old. "It's cool not knowing where you are going."

Avery Meyers' mother, Lisa Meyers of Hampstead, disagreed.

"I got lost every time I go into a maze," she said. "I follow the white space on the map rather than the black lines that represent the trails. I get so lost there's no way I could go into a maze at night. I would be lost for days."

That's not the case for Avery.

"I navigate using the twist and turns," he said. "And I almost always get it right on the first try."

If you go:

The maze at North Run Farm is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 5; 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29; and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on subsequent Fridays.

Cost for the maze, farm activities and hayride is $7 for ages 13 and up; $5 for ages 4 to 12; free for children under 4. Cost for farm activities and hayride is $5 for ages 13 and up; $3 for ages 4 to 12.

Where: 1703 Greenspring Valley Road in Stevenson.

Information: 410-241-3392 or www.northrunfarm.com

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