On its surface, it seems like a centuries-old pastime.
You have a big field of corn, you cut down a pathway and you have hours of fun walking through a corn maze.
Except here’s the catch: The trick to a good corn maze is a GPS unit.
Yes, what seems like something our ancestors might have enjoyed is actually made much better thanks to technology. At local corn mazes, designs are mapped out ahead of time, programmed into a GPS unit on a tractor and cut in perfect shapes.
Which means you can walk through the shapes of Georgia-grown produce at Maize Quest in Alto, experience crop circles at the North Georgia Corn Maze in Cleveland or get in the middle of a Scottie dog (the outline of Dawson County), a tree and a shining sun at Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze in Dawsonville.
But what you see from the air is a lot different on the ground. The twists and turns are just another row of corn to navigate, and that’s why each maze has its own strategy to get out through the maze, too.
“We have game sheets that we give out when they go in, and there’s stations as you go through the maze,” said Drew Echols, owner of Jaemor Farm Market. “If you’re looking for a way in and a way out, you can get in and out in 30 minutes. But if you want to experience the corn maze, we give you a game book and there are stations; it’s kind of like a scavenger hunt.”
There are also special stations throughout the maze where visitors can insert their map and have it decoded to give them their position. But until you find a station, you can’t read the map.
“There’s five stations out in the maze that have Plexiglas on them and you slide the map under them,” he said.
Up the road in White County, it’s punches in a card that keep you on track.
“Everyone gets a map. If you follow the map, technically you never get lost if you follow every turn,” said North Georgia Corn Maze owner Heath Biggers. “You take your card and there’s a hole punch and you punch your card and the challenge is to find all seven points.”
But you can simply enjoy the escape, too.
“It’s kid of fun to go without the map, because you just kind of keep wandering,” he added. “I kind of enjoy that way, really.”
All mazes have attractions for family members of all ages, beyond the attraction of corn.
For example, Jaemor Farm is a working farm. At North Georgia Corn Maze there’s a hayride that takes you to a haunted barn starting Sept. 19. Uncle Shuck’s attractions include a haunted maze and kids areas.
Plus, scarecrows and sunflowers.
Mike Pinzl, owner and the namesake of Uncle Shuck’s, said he asked local businesses and nonprofit groups to contribute a scarecrow. The result is 25 different scarecrows that go on display Oct. 1 and stay up through the month. Visitors can vote on their favorites and get a chance to win a $1,000 gift certificate package from the companies who entered scarecrows.
And because September is usually a slower month for the corn maze, Pinzl said he planted the seeds for a new attraction this summer.
Specifically, about 45,000 sunflower seeds, which have now sprouted and are in full bloom on 3 acres adjoining the maze.
“I usually put sunflowers around the outside of the corn field, and I thought, ‘Let’s just see what happens,’” he said. “And sure enough, I think every single one of them bloomed. … It’s a sea of yellow. It’s gorgeous.”
Once Halloween hits, though, the corn mazes will succumb to a fate much less technologically advanced than the way they were created.
Some will be tilled under and reseeded for a hay field the rest of the year. Or, at the North Georgia Corn Maze, the cows will be let loose to tear it down.
“The day we finish we turn the cattle loose and they just start eating it,” Biggers said.