Creating the mazes is costly and time consuming.
The Orrs and Grabareks begin thinking about the next maze even before the current season ends.
Over the past 11 years the maze at Preston Farms has become more elaborate. Borrowing the idea from a farm in Pennsylvania he visited a dozen years ago, Grabarek thought he’d create his own maze to bring attention to the farm.
The first year the maze was fine, but probably not elaborate enough for visitors, he says. There wasn’t a game and people made it through the maze in about a half hour.
So Grabarek began creating games and themes to go along with the maze. He built two bridges for people to climb so they can get a better view of the trails.
Now it can take up to three hours to get through the maze if a person does it by him or herself. On average, Grabarek says, about half the people exit the maze through the entrance because they get so lost. Undeterred they go back in hoping to complete their task.
This year’s theme is American Legends; the maze is cut out as Paul Bunion and Babe the Blue Ox. Grabarek purchased a team of oxen last year and they will be pastured close to the maze in keeping with the theme.
Grabarek falls back on his basic high school geometry to create the grid he’ll use to cut out the maze.
He uses uncharged electric fence wire to create the grids in the unplanted corn fields and fence posts to plot out where the trails should run through the corn. He uses a string trimmer to cut a small path at first, but as the corn grows he widens the path and begins to shape it.
In the end, Grabarek says, the maze always pays for itself, with a little left over for routine maintenance on the bridges and shed.
For the Orr family it costs about $10,000 just to build the maze each year. Much of that goes to supplies, such as corn, Plexiglas, game sheets, the video and supporting sound system and a GPS system that helps to cut out the maze each year.
Visitors to Fort Hill can watch a video about the maze and try the smaller, children’s sized maze before entering the larger maze to see if they are up for the challenge. They are given a fourpage game sheet with the answers hidden in the maze.
If there are any rules, possibly the most significant one is that guests treat the mazes with respect. They are part of working farms, not separate entertainment venues, so guests are asked to leave them in the condition in which they are found.