GPS technology and a commercial-grade, extremely nimble “zero turn” lawnmower.
These modern tools are being put to use to create an old-fashioned fall tradition.
Don Watts, who calls himself “the corn maze guy,” can still get lost in the maze he created outside Yardley, Pennsylvania.
The graphic designer consults with Paul Flemming, one of the three brothers who runs Shady Brook Farm in Bucks County. Flemming has gotten used to fishing people out of here.
“We had one last week, we couldn’t find them in here,” he said. “They kept calling the store to say, ‘Hey, I’m lost in your corn maze’ and we drove all around and couldn’t find them.”
“They came out I guess,” Flemming laughed.
Watts started working on the Flemming family farm at age 15. Now, he travels up and down the East Coast helping farmers build corn mazes.
The pattern — usually fall themed, like a pumpkin, or lettering — gets cut out of the young corn in the spring. Twenty years ago, Watts started off the old-fashioned way, transferring the design on paper into the corn using a grid system.
“When the corn was about twelve feet high, we would go out in the field and put stakes every 25 feet. That worked very well. It was just labor-intensive,” Watts explains. We actually did that to about 2008 is when we went to using the GPS system.
“Now we can go in and cut a maze this maze in an hour hour and a half.”
This version of GPS Watts uses was designed to help farmers track their planting and fertilizing. Watts doesn’t know of anyone else using it to cut mazes. He thinks there are only about five or six people in the country who do what he does commercially.
Here at Shady Brook, the paths get cut about five feet across. The corn is about six or seven feet tall this year. Usually, it would tower at nine or ten feet.
Some of the small farmers Watts works for have told him the extra income from their mazes has helped them to stay in business.
As he walks around the maze, there are thirteen school groups visiting Shady Brook Farm’s fall attractions.
A team of students from Olney High School, “Team Caramel” go by in a hurry, racing “Team Explorer,” to the other side.
“We’ve only been in for 15 minutes,” explained their young teacher, Jamilla Evans. “We’re hoping to get out soon, within the next 15 minutes so can catch our bus. Our strategy was to first try to make every right turn and now we’re just kind of going with our instinct.”
In all, there’s just over a mile of paths cut into these three acres.
Watts observes that uninvited guests will sometimes also wander through.
“Another thing we get occasionally is critters. Everybody likes the corn. The deer like the corn, the raccoons, and every once in a while you hear shuffling through the dry leaves. It’s nothing to worry about but sometimes you’ll hear a kid scream when see something running through the corn.”
What’s a lot scarier than a raccoon, he says, is being out here at night.