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Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007 09:02 pm

A maze to amaze

Godfrey still is the best place to get lost in the corn, but there are worthy contenders

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Untitled Document You can do just about anything with corn — eat it, feed your pigs with it, concoct bourbon whiskey with it, and most recently, fill up your gas tank with it. But when the dog days of summer yield to fall’s feel-good temperatures, there’s only one thing to do with the yellow wonder: get lost in it.
Autumn’s cornfield maze craze is on, with several popping up right here in central Illinois. The small town of Godfrey is a veteran in the maze-designing business, and this year Godfrey brings out the big guns. The Godfrey Parks and Recreation Department invited Brett Herbst and his crew from The MAiZE — the world’s largest labyrinth-making operation, with nearly 200 cornfield creations in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, Italy, and the United Kingdom — to design, lay out, and cut this fall’s “Wild, Wild West” theme into a seven-acre cornfield in Godfrey’s Glazebrook Park. Herbst, a Brigham Young University agribusiness graduate, founded The MAiZE in Utah in 1996 after reading about a fledgling maze venture in Pennsylvania. When his first cornfield design drew 18,000 visitors in just three weeks, Herbst knew that the operation would be a hit. “What surprised me more than anything is how this has filled an entertainment gap that we didn’t even know existed,” Herbst says on The MAiZE’s Web site. “People, young and old, have thanked me time and time again for providing a source of recreation that is fun for all ages, clean, educational and unique. “It’s somewhere you can have fun and learn a little something about agriculture .  . . It just seems to appeal to everyone.”
Kimberly Caughran, director of the Godfrey parks-and-recreation department, says that the Great Godfrey Maze has become wildly popular, bringing in nearly 15,000 visitors in 2006. She, like Herbst, attributes this success to the widespread appeal of cornfield-maze entertainment. “[Patrons] like it because it’s good quality, wholesome family fun, and it’s pretty inexpensive,” Caughran says. “This year we have a corn crib the kids can wallow around in, and a chuckwagon, because it’s a cowboy theme, and we’ll do special events to get more people in and make it special for them.”
On Aug. 31, 5:30-7:30 p.m., the Great Godfrey Maze will host its grand opening party, followed by an outdoor movie screening at 8 p.m.
Beginning Sept. 1 and continuing through Oct. 28, the maze will be open 6-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m.-dusk Sunday. During the Halloween Spooktacular, Oct. 12-28, the ghosts of cowboys past will appear after sunset to haunt the maze. The annual Fall Corn Festival will be held at the maze on Oct. 6 and will feature games, food vendors, and live music by the Boneheads and Back in the Saddle. The day’s events will also include an antique-tractor show, a mechanical bull, a corn-on-the-cob-eating contest, a corn cook-off, and helicopter and hot-air-balloon rides. Admission for the maze costs $6 for adults and $4 for children ages 6-11. For more information, go to www.greatgodfreymaze.com or call 618-466-1483. Godfrey is located near Alton, about 90 miles southwest of Springfield. Here are some corn-maze alternatives in the region:
• Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch Fall Corn Maze, Rantoul (Open daily in November). Near Decatur, the 12-acre “Dragon Heart” corn maze at Hardy’s Reindeer Ranch offers a real challenge for extreme labyrinth-wanderers. Designed like a big treasure hunt, the maze has six checkpoints that visitors must locate before they can complete the mission and find the exit. The one- to three-hour quest can also be conducted by flashlight during “Moonlight Madness.” You can also enjoy hayrides, reindeer tours, and cookouts by reservation at Hardy’s. For hours and additional information, call 217-893-3407 or visit www.reindeerranch.com. Pumpkin Works, Paris (Sept. 15-Oct. 31).
If you’re looking for variety, Pumpkin Works is the place. In addition to two cornfield mazes, owners Paul and Sherry Staley have constructed nine other labyrinths, including a dark-zone maze, a multilevel maze, and a pipe maze. Eight of Pumpkin Works’ creations are adult-challenging, five are wheel-chair accessible, and three are mostly allergen-free. Along with the mazes you’ll find a pumpkin patch, hayrides, a petting zoo, and a pumpkin sling. Prices, hours, and other information can be found at www.pumpkinworks.com, or call 217-275-3327. Didier Farms Pumpkin Festival Corn Maze, Prairie View (Sept. 22-Oct. 31). Designed specifically with kids in mind, the five-acre cornfield maze at Didier Farms is user-friendly and takes less than a half-hour to navigate. Owner John Didier says that he welcomes 11,000 to 12,000 students in October, most of them fifth-graders or younger. The maze is open during the annual Pumpkinfest, so kids and their families can also visit the pumpkin patch, try out pumpkin donuts, and participate in fun activities and games. For more information, go to www.didierfarms.com or call 847-634-3291.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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