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Corn Mazes: How to Make an Autumn Tradition

For autumn farm fun, finding your way through a corn maze is almost as popular as playing in a pumpkin patch. Meandering through paths hidden by high stalks of corn is in turns funny, confusing, frustrating – when you finish – triumphant.

The largest corn maze in the state is at Maryland Sunrise Farm in Gambrills. Once the US Naval Academy Dairy Farm, it is now owned by Anne Arundel County and leased by the Fry Family, who’ve been farming for five generations. With 570 acres in production, it is the largest single parcel of farmland in largely developed Anne Arundel County. The farm raises beef and a wide variety of vegetables, most of which is earmarked for subscribers to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups. (Those are groups which provide produce and meat from local farmers to individual subscribers.) When the farm opened the first Maryland Corn Maze in 2006, it was an experiment. It is now a fixture for the farm and the community.

According to Carol Paul, the maze manager, a lot of thought goes into the planning, designing, and creation of the maze.

“We have a face painter, Amanda Wisely, who participates in the activities at the maze. She is very in tune with what kids are interested in. She said unicorns were going to be the big thing this year, so that’s what we used as our theme.”

Working with a professional maze designing firm, they created “Unicorn Dreams”. Viewed from above, the 8-acre design shows two prancing unicorns with hopping rabbits, a happy-looking rockfish, and a field of stars. Surrounding them are wandering paths, dead ends, short cuts, and no direct line from the entrance to the center of the field.

Taking the maze from design to creation is an involved process. “We start by planting all of the acres with field corn.” That’s the type used as feed for livestock, not the edible, corn-on-the-cob variety. Sunrise Farms harvests it and uses some for their cattle and sells the rest.

“We go high-tech after that. We use GPS to lay out the design on the ground. Then we apply weed killer along the design so that the corn will not grow there. During the summer, we keep up the paths. We mow and trim to keep the weeds down and do what we can to keep the deer out.” For deer, 8 acres of corn is as attractive as the all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral. Even a small herd of deer can consume most of that corn in a few nights.

Many Maryland farmers use GPS on their farms to monitor yields during harvest or to keep close track of where fertilizer or crop protection chemicals are applied. With equipment that is accurate within about 3-8 inches, “precision agriculture” has become commonplace in the state.

Managing the maze keeps Carol and her staff busy. “It’s easy to get lost and people can get frustrated. We give everyone a flag that they can raise to signal for help. We have ‘corn cops’ equipped with walkie talkies to help lost patrons. There is a lookout at the top of the 24-foot high tower in the center of the maze who watches over everything. This year, we are trying something new. On Friday nights, we are opening the maze after dark, so people can try to find their way with flashlights.”

Maryland boasts a lot of corn mazes across the state, each offering a lot of agricultural and farm-oriented activities in addition to the maze. Visit Maryland’s Best to explore a corn maze near you.

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