- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 27, 2004

“Catch the maze craze” breathlessly urges a sign near the popular maze at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park in Loudoun County, a few miles north of Leesburg. The mazes it’s shouting about are the ones cut in big fields of 10-foot-tall corn at farms found these days all across America and in a few foreign countries as well.

They do amount to what might be called a craze. Each weekend, thousands of children and their parents visit Temple Hall Farm and sample at least part of the four miles of paths that make up its 11-acre “Welcome Back Joe” corn maze. The maze is in the shape of a football field along with a portrait of Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs.

Similar numbers of Washington-area folks flock each weekend to Virginia and the Corn Maze in The Plains (designed this year as a huge monarch butterfly) in Fauquier County, to Maryland’s Forrest Hall Farm and Orchard in St. Mary’s County (whose maze is a large, old-fashioned locomotive commemorating a train that ran year ago to a nearby depot), and to the many other mazes found on farms and nearby sites in the Washington exurbs and southern Pennsylvania.

Not only are the mazes springing up all over, they’re also more popular than ever. “This is the best year ever. People keep coming,” says Joseph Wood of Forrest Hall Farm and Orchard, who switched over from tobacco farming to a corn maze five years ago.

Similar reports come from Hub and Kate Knott (who recently added more games for children because of demand) at the Corn Maze in the Plains and from John Moore at Temple Hall Regional Farm Park.



• • •

A walk through a corn maze might take 45 minutes or so, if you don’t take a wrong turn. Then it will take a bit longer depending on your wits and luck. They’re like puzzles that need solving, and a successful maneuver through complex pathways offers challenge, as well as fun.

But corn mazes aren’t the only fun these places provide. There are hayrides — rides on bales of hay stacked on a cart pulled by a tractor — and “corn boxes,” sandboxes filled with shucked dry corn, rather than sand.

Visitors can gather their own pumpkins from large-sized pumpkin patches. Farm animals to see and pet (if touching is permitted) come in an amazing variety, from cows and goats to chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

Often the livestock is exotic. Temple Hall Farm has Kavi, the kissing llama, and Silkie chickens with feathers on their feet as well as their bodies.

In keeping with the Halloween season, the farms have haunted barns, nighttime tours of the maze, even haunted hayrides, and other events whose purpose is to tingle the spine and make hair stand on end.

On the more practical side, they often offer for sale locally grown apples, jars of recently canned apple butter (sweetened or unsweetened), and pies baked to order.

Indeed, corn mazes lend themselves quite readily to the Halloween season. What can possibly be more spine-tingling than a night visit to a real maze, around whose every twist and turn may lurk a big surprise? Even the scares offered by horror movies pale by comparison.

Temple Hall Farm, for example, promises visitors they’ll be “thrilled and frightened” after being “lured into the Nightmare cornfield.”

And Mr. Knott, whose Corn Maze in The Plains offers a “Moonlight Maze,” says it’s fun to watch adults “become kids again for a while” when they succumb to the surprises of the maze. (Forrest Hall Farm, which closes at dusk, offers daytime thrills.)

• • •

Today’s corn mazes are designed for lighthearted family fun. But mazes of one kind or another have been around a long time and may in part appeal to something fundamental in human nature. The earliest labyrinths, a close relative of the maze, date from the 3rd millennium B.C. and have been found all over the world.

Archaeologists tell us a trip through the labyrinth could symbolize death and rebirth for those who made the passage.

How do labyrinths and mazes differ? Labyrinths have but one single path to the center. Mazes put a spin on that single path by adding dead ends and varying degrees of complexity rather than a single way to the center or the exit. They became less spiritual experiences than labyrinths. People grew and trimmed shrubs and bushes to form mazes to decorate gardens on their estates.

And now farmers grow fields of corn and turn them into mazes to entertain crowds of people, most of whom come from the city or suburbs and know nothing of country life.

Sometimes farmers hire professionals to do the job. Temple Hall Farm, part of the North Virginia Park Authority, hired Brett Herbst this year to do their “Welcome Back Joe” maze. The Utah-based Mr. Herbst, whose firm is the Maze Company, designed about 160 mazes this year in many parts of the United States and six other countries.

Often, however, they do the job themselves. Mr. Wood, whose children and grandchildren help run the Forrest Hall Farm, for example, says that when the family learned that a professional maze designer can charge $8,000 to $10,000 for his work, they decided that “if someone else can do it, we can too.”

Mr. Wood prefers to keep Forrest Hall’s method secret. But it works, and works well. Forrest Hall Farm’s locomotive design is complex and clever — and very unusual.

At the Corn Maze at The Plains, the wife and husband team of Kate and Hub Knott do their own mazes too. When the corn is young and short they cut the paths in the pattern they’ve chosen. This year’s was the huge monarch butterfly.

Mr. Knott does the design on the ground. “He’s very gifted spatially,” his wife says. Then in August, when the corn is high, a plane flies over the field and takes an aerial photograph so they can see if the maze needs fine-tuning. Rarely is anything more than a minor change called for.

What have they learned from the five mazes they’ve done?

“The first year we had dead ends in our maze and that proved frustrating to many people,” Mrs. Knott says. “After that, we had no more dead ends.”

• • •

Corn mazes vary in length. The monarch butterfly at The Plains has about 21/2 miles of pathways. The locomotive in the maze at Forrest Hall Farm is a bit longer, about 3 miles. The four miles of maze at Temple Hall Farm are divided into two “phases,” the second more difficult than the first. Those who finish both are designated “maze experts” with the right to go home with bragging rights.

As trekkers walk through a maze, they will encounter a number of spots where they must stop and provide answers to posted questions. Right answers will provide them with the correct way to proceed on their journey. Wrong answers will give them misleading information.

At Temple Hill Farm’s “Welcome Back Joe” maze, the questions are trivia about the Redskins, Halloween, and the Girl and Boy Scouts. The monarch butterfly maze at The Plains, not surprisingly, challenges maze-goers with questions about butterflies. At Forrest Hall Farm’s locomotive maze, visitors collect tokens at six mailboxes in the maze. If they collect all six, they can exchange them for a small mum, a pumpkin, or three apples.

Getting lost in a corn maze, of course, can be frustrating — and embarrassing. But it’s a frustration that’s easily remedied. All corn mazes have “corn cops” on raised platforms in the cornfield. Those who do the maze are given flags on poles they can raise to signal a problem. The Corn Maze at the Plains has a “survival guide” for its maze walkers.

Maze rules are pretty much the same, whatever farm you’re on: Stay on the paths and don’t cut through the corn. Don’t pick the corn — it will be harvested and used once the maze is closed down. No smoking. No alcohol. Violators will be asked to leave the maze.

No farm repeats a maze design. Forrest Hall Farm did a popular dinosaur design in 2002 and that same year Temple Hall Farm did a maze based on Grant Wood’s famous farm portrait, “American Gothic.” The Corn Maze at the Plains once did a truly stunning eagle.

• • •

In addition to providing fun for families, a big — and important — service the corn maze farms provide the public is knowledge and experience of farm life. Most city youngsters and most of those who grow up in metropolitan areas haven’t been on farms and know nothing about them.

A visit to a corn maze farm can change all that in a way that’s not classroom dull, but hands-on, fun, and in the company of their families.

When children wander across the farm at the Corn Maze in The Plains, for example, they find questions the Knotts have painted on boards. One asks: “How fast does a honey bee fly?” Lifting up a patch of cloth, the youngsters find the answer: 15 miles per hour.

At Temple Hill Farm in Loudoun County, visitors will inevitably come into contact with personable, 38-year-old John Moore. Mr. Moore, who has the title of “farm interpreter,” grew up near Herndon, when that area still had farms. He and his family live on Temple Hall Farm and he’s likely to be the guy who’s driving the tractor pulling the hayride cart.

Temple Hall Farm provides a look at what a successful farm was like decades ago in the Virginia countryside. At Forrest Hill Farm in St. Mary’s County,Md., visitors see what a long-time family enterprise is like.

Mr. Wood’s grandfather bought the place in 1912. For generations, Forrest Hall Farm grew tobacco — until Mr. Wood and his family agreed to a tobacco buyout by the state of Maryland in 2000. It was then that they began looking around for something else to do and settled on a corn maze and all the extras.

The first year they grew the maze there was a drought. The next year, the Washington-area snipers and the havoc they created cut down on visits to the farm. The next year there was Hurricane Isabel to contend with.

But this year, says Joseph Wood, “has been great.” The Wood family — Mr. Wood’s children and their families live nearby — plan to continue the maze. But they also intend to start planting grapes, part of an effort to turn southern Maryland into a wine-growing region.

Forrest Hall Farm is situated on gently rolling and hilly land. There’s a handsome white farmhouse with red barns and a dahlia garden near by. On the porch of the farm store a row of six rocking chairs looks out over the farm and a pond with geese.

Around the store there are tables with checkerboards and small tin buckets than hold checkers. Inside, visitors can buy apples — Rome, Granny Smith, and other varieties — grown in Forrest Hall Farm’s orchards. Also available are a variety of other crafts and goods. It all betokens an America — rural America — that is rapidly disappearing.

• • •

At the Corn Maze at the Plains, Mr. and Mrs. Knott haven’t been in the farm business nearly as long as the Woods of Forrest Hall Farm. But what they lack in experience, they more than make up for in enthusiasm.

Mrs. Knott, 29, comes from Ohio, and her 31-year-old husband is from Towson, outside Baltimore. They met while students at Washington State University, in Pullman, Wash. They’re expecting their first baby in March.

As a boy, Mr. Knott drew sketches of the ideal farm he’d like to have some day. Their first maze opened three days after they got married. Now they say “we are dedicated to educating people about farming, the natural world, and other healthy living practices.”

They also like to boast that they have “America’s first organically grown corn maze.” In fact, their place specializes in the organically grown, whether from their farm of from the farms of other organic farmers in the area.

Not only is the corn maze organically grown. The burgers for sale at the farm’s the Good Earth Grill are made of organically grown meat. And the produce and canned goods found in Kate’s Country Store are organically grown. Mr. Knott says that their organically grown theme attracts visitors from as far as North Carolina.

Mrs. Knott adds that one of the joys of running the Corn Maze at The Plains is the number of repeat visitors, families that come year after year, beginning with their first maze five years ago. “Mothers were carrying babies then that are now kids, and they’re coming back,” she says.

Where to find mazes to get lost

Farmers these days revel in the Halloween season, with hayrides and other events meant to make hair stand on end. But for real spine-tingling fun, try getting lost in a corn maze, where a wrong turn can leave you shouting for the “maze monitor.” Here are details on some of the most ingenious corn mazes in the area, and a guide to finding others not mentioned in the article.

Maryland

• Forrest Hall Farm and Orchard: 39136 Avie Lane, Mechanicsville. On Route 5, 11/2 miles from the intersection of routes 5 and 235. Joseph and Mary Wood.

11 a.m. to dusk Saturdays and Sundays, by appointment Mondays through Fridays, Aug. 28 to Nov. 5. Admission $6. Children under 3 free. Children’s group rates available for groups of 12 or more. 301/884-3086 or www.forresthallfarm.com

• Arora Corn Maze: Off Ridge Road, Clarksburg. 240/686-0206 or www.arorahills.com

• Homestead Farm: 15600 Sugarland Road, Poolesville. 301/977-3761 or www.homestead-farm.net

• Homestead Gardens: 743 W. Central Ave., Davidsonville. 301/261-4550, 410/798-5000 or www.homesteadgardens.com

• Zekiah Farms: Booth Place, Bryantown. 240/216-4065 or www.zekiahfarms.com

Virginia

• Temple Hall Farm Regional Park: 15789 Temple Hall Lane, 5 miles north of Leesburg. Take Route 15 north from Leesburg to right on Route 661 (Limestone School Road). Go about 1 mile to the farm entrance on the left. Operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

4 to 10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, through Sunday. Admission $7 ages 12 and older, $5 ages 6 to 11. Children under 5 free. An additional $3 covers unlimited use of a corn cannon, water balloon wars, a giant wave slide, cow belly bounce and cow train. “Nightmare Manor,” open tomorrow and Saturday, includes a haunted barn and hayride and surprises in the maze for a $10 admission charge. 703/777-6732 (recording with directions) or www.nvrpa.org/maize. To schedule group field trips, call 703/352-5900.

• The Corn Maze in The Plains: Route 245, The Plains. Take I-66 west, exit at Route 245 north. The maze directions:Take I-66 west. Exit at Route 245, then north to The Plains. The maze is the first right after Archwood Green Barns. Kate and Hub Knott.

10 a.m. to 6 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 7. Admission $7 ages 13 and older, $6 ages ages 5 to 12. Free to children 4 and younger. Moonlight Maze open 7 to 10 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and Nov. 5. Last tickets sold at 8:30 p.m. 540/456-7339 or www.circleofseeds.com.

• Belvedere Plantation: 1601 Belvedere Dr., Fredericksburg. 540/371-8494, 800/641-1212 or www.belvedereplantation.com

• Cows-n-Corn: 5191 Germantown Road, Midland. 540/439-4806 or www.cows-n-corn.com

• Kidwell Farm: Frying Pan Park, Herndon. 703/437-9101 or www.fairfaxcounty.gov /parks/fpp/index.htm

• Round Hill Farm: Everona Road, off Route 522, 12 miles south of Culpeper. 540/854-7398.

— Stephen Goode

A postcard shows the monarch butterfly design of this year’s maze at the Corn Maze in The Plains, Va.

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