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From the "Great Sphinx" to "Jurassic World," Michigan corn mazes get creative

Oct 21, 2015

Great Sphinx corn maze on Jacob's Farm near Traverse City.
Credit Jacob's Farm / screen shot YouTube

Each year, tens of thousands of Michiganders flock to nearby farms to make their way through mazes made of corn stalks.

The idea of a maze made of maize began in the early 1990s in Pennsylvania.

According to Lebanon Valley College, farmer Don Frantz created the first American corn maze to attract visitors to his farm:

Frantz had read about Europe’s small hedge mazes designed to fit in a backyard or terrace, but the outdoor, human-size maze had not caught on in the U.S. He worked with England’s Adrian Fisher of Minotaur Designs to design the maze.

Since then, the idea spread to farms across the country, including in Michigan.

How a corn maze is made

To create a maze, farmers start planting corn seeds in late May. Traditional corn fields are planted in rows. For a corn maze, farmers plant in two directions to create thick walls of corn that are difficult to see through.

Farmers start cutting their pattern in the field when the corn is “knee high on the Fourth of July,” according to Nancy Briggs, owner of Fruit Ridge Hayrides & Fall Fun in Kent City.

Farmers can cut corn with either a tractor or a commercial lawn mower, but they must keep cutting in the pattern of the maze again and again until the corn stops growing.

Briggs says when her farm started making corn mazes in the early 2000s, they drew the sketch of a maze out on graph paper.

They then followed a paper map of their corn field to cut out the maze with a lawn mower.

In 2011, her farm began using a satellite-guided GPS to draw and create their maze.

Getting creative

With GPS technology, farmers began to get creative with their maze designs.

Some of this year’s Michigan mazes have sophisticated designs which stretch on for miles, and include numerous dead ends.

Some popular mazes around the state include outlines of Mt. Everest in Fruit Ridge Hayrides & Fall Fun, a praying woman in the Country Corn Maze in Corunna, and a the Great Egyptian Sphinx in Jacob’s Farm in Traverse City.

Here's that maze:

The design of Jacob's Farm corn maze in Traverse City, shaped like the Great Sphinx in Egypt.
Credit Jacob's Farm / screen shot YouTube

Ruth Haven, manager of Jacob’s Farm, says their 10-acre maze, named the “Escape from Egypt,” is crafted in the shape of pyramids and Egyptian hieroglyphics surrounding the sphinx, and even includes a bridge that connects the maze from below and above.

Within the maze, visitors can use word clues about Egyptian history to help make their way across the maze.

The games are meant to keep the maze fun and interesting for all ages.

"We definitely want it keep it interesting, so we try to gear it towards the whole family and not just children."

“We definitely want it keep it interesting, so we try to gear it towards the whole family and not just children,” Haven said.

Some Michigan farmers go beyond just a maze.

The Grand River Corn Maze in Fowlerville also includes a Mad Max: Fury Road hayride and a Jeffrey Dahmer-themed haunted house.

At 26 acres, the corn maze is among the largest mazes in the Midwest, says Ken Evans, designer of the maze.

This year, he designed the corn field based on a scene from Jurassic World: a dinosaur jumping out of the water to eat bait.

Here's a shot of that maze from the air:

The Grand River Corn Maze in Fowlerville. The maze depicts a scene from Jurassic World, when a dinosaur's head comes up from the water to eat bait.
Credit Grand River Corn Maze

He said he gained inspiration from the land the maze is planted on, which was an excavation site for prehistoric elephant bones.

For an added layer of spookiness, Evans says he even used genetically modified corn seeds, which produce stalk that can grow up to 13.5 ft tall – five feet higher than typical corn stalks. All the elements, he says, combine to give visitors a thrill.

“I like them to have a positive attitude about it when they are done,” Evans said.

To find a local corn maze in your area, check out our map below.

If you know of a corn maze that's not on our map, let us know in the comments section below!
 

- Allana Akhtar, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Correction: A previous version of this post said the "Jurassic Farm" corn maze depicted a scene from Jurassic Park. It actually depicts a scene from Jurassic World.