What do you get when you combine Halloween, agriculture and haunted house-type thrills?
The Woodland Corn Maze, of course.
Yolo County’s cult favorite fall attraction will be open from Oct. 1 to 31. Opening day was postponed one week when it was determined the maze was too wet to walk on.
Brian Williams, owner and co-founder of the maze, likened it to a large-scale version of popular childhood pastimes.
“You get out there in the corn and it’s sort of like when you put a blanket over the dining room table and turn it into a fort,” Williams said. “The corn maze brings out the kid in people and they just start having a good time. It’s a hilarious thing.”
Williams and his brother founded the maze in 1998. While looking for a venue to host an “agri-tainment” event, the two discovered Woodland’s Heidrick Ag History Center online and asked them if they knew of a farmer who could help them put on the maze.
To the Williams’ surprise, the history center said they wanted to host the event themselves. Now, the maze acts as a fundraiser for the history center.
Colleen Thompson, administrative director of the Heidrick Ag History Center, described the corn maze as a natural marriage between Yolo County’s farming tradition and family fun.
“It kind of heralds the season I think,” Thompson said. “It’s the fall harvest; we’re an [agricultural] community [and] you see a lot of cornfields around here.
“There’s always the mystery that’s been attached to it for many generations – anything from Ichabod Crane to Halloween. I think you’re just combining a lot of different focal points together into something that’s pure entertainment.”
Williams and his team began farming the corn in July, and plotted the maze design while the corn was still relatively short. Mike Trujillo, one of the event planners, said that there is no exact science to how the maze is built. In fact, they don’t even see the finished product until they fly over the field in an airplane just before opening day.
“We drew the design on the coffee table, went out and did our thing,” Trujillo said. “It’s always fun to see what it looks like from the air so we’re pretty excited to fly over and see what the design is.”
This year’s design features the image of an antique John Deere tractor. Past designs include the gold rush and the state quarter.
In addition to simply finding their way through the maze, participants can also brave the haunted “field of screams” trail on Friday and Saturday nights. Scavenger hunts and “geo-dashes,” which allow contestants to use GPS-enabled devices to find their way through the maze, are also on the agenda.
Williams said the maze is most popular with teenagers and young adults, though families also come out in large numbers. Typically, about 18,000 to 20,000 people visit each year.
“The year 2001, right after the Sept. 11 attacks, was our number one attended year,” Williams said. “Everyone was staying home. People were doing things with their families and people weren’t flying anywhere. That was a huge turnout.”
Though staff is on hand to help directionally-challenged people through the maze, not everyone minds getting a little lost.
“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘is anybody really going through the maze or are they just going in circles looking for their friends?'” Williams said. “There are people who come out here and they don’t make any effort to go through the maze or find their way, and then there are other people who are adamant about not cutting through the corn and they love to conquer the challenge of the maze.”
Though many participants are regulars, the corn maze continues to attract eager new fans from Woodland, Davis and other cities further away.
“We’ve had people as far as Reno get in the car and drive two hours to see us,” Trujillo said. “And that’s pretty special to have somebody go that far out of their way to share in the event.”
For prices and hours of the Woodland Corn Maze, visit woodlandcornmaze.com/Home.html.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.