Corn Treks/Find Fall at Crumland Farms

by Nathan Oravec


Faster than the amber stalks that form their crisscrossing corridors, corn mazes always seem to sprout up at area farms with the first colorful signs of autumn. While Crumland Farms of Frederick is no exception to this rule, its owners like to think their unique labyrinth certainly is: the only one of its kind in the area to feature a spider-fighting bovine by the name of Maizy, a mainstay at the farm for the last three years.

According to co-owner Chris Crum, the farm that bears his name has been in the family for quite some time. His grandfather, John, bought a Frederick farm in 1940 with his wife Lib, where they began milking close to twenty cows by hand. Milking continued on the farm for many years, passing into the hands of Chris’ father Denny and mother Judy, who purchased property on Willow Road where they launched a new milking operation. By the year 2000, the farm known as Crumland had grown to 600 cows, milked six times a day - A twenty-three and a half-hour process. Because facilities were beginning to show their age, rather than upgrade, the decision was made by the Crums to sell their cows and move into direct marketing. Today at Crumland, farming continues, producing wheat, alfalfa, hay... pumpkins - and corn.

Now in its third year, the first Maze at Crumland farm was held in 2001 when the event’s concurrent cow theme was established. Illustrated by family-friend Ryon Grau, Maizy the cow was created, serving as the official Crumland mascot and appearing in each annual maze’s design - Surfing the cornfield for her debut in 2001 and as a firefighter in 2002, a tribute to 9/11. This year, Maizy, in aerial view, can be seen soaring on her broomstick, doing epic-battle with arachnid enemies.

Making the maze, says Crum, has become almost second nature. After Grau designs an image, it is printed on graph paper, which is then used as a template. “Corn is double planted,” Crum says - north, south, east and west - “forming a natural grid. From there we start plotting out the maze with a mower when the corn is short.” This year, he notes, corn was planted the last week of June - three weeks later it was ankle high. It takes three people - one on the lawnmower and two to mark subsequent points with flags - to create the paths. “Straight lines are easy. When you get to the curves, it can get tricky,” Crum says. Surprisingly, for such an elaborate design, the process itself is not terribly lengthy. “We generally start mowing it in around seven in the morning and are finished by one in the afternoon. It actually takes longer to mark out with flags.”

At five and a half-acres, the maze certainly is a massive creation. “You can have nearly one hundred people spread throughout the maze, and they might only cross paths a half a dozen times.” Sixteen mailboxes are spaced at certain intersections, each containing a different puzzle piece which, when assembled, form a map of the maze. “Some people are determined to find the entire puzzle,” Crum says. “We’ve had people who will stay in there for two hours or more trying to find every piece.”

For those not finding the map - or finding themselves flustered when they lose their way - a fail-safe has been orchestrated. Before embarking upon the maze, patrons are given a flag. “If they get lost or frustrated, they just wave the flag.” Staff members are positioned on a tower to keep a lookout for flag-waving wanderers; and can lend directional support. “Whatever they need. We do our best to get them out of there quick.”

Night mazes are available by reservation where groups of twenty or more can navigate the cornfield while spooky, ambient music floats overhead from a tower-based sound system. “We try to change the atmosphere somewhat,” says Crum. “It’s a different world being in there at night. There’s just something about it - you lose your bearings a little bit more.”

While the maze may be Crumland’s most popular attraction, the farm also offers all of the autumnal goodies associated with only the finest pumpkin patches; namely pumpkins - big and orange and pick your own, and accessible via a tractor-drawn hay ride - as well as gourds, mums, corn shucks, and more. “We have all sorts of fall decorations.”

For the little ones, Crumland’s Fall Fest features a playground area - including a barrel-train that has proved “a big hit for the kids” - and a petting zoo with cuddly creatures like llamas, emus, goats, rabbits, and a miniature horse.

The maze, which opened Labor Day weekend, is open Saturdays, Sundays and on days when Maryland Schools are closed. “ We might have to start looking closer at our calendar,” he laughs. On Columbus Day, a busload of Virginia students showed up catching Crum and Company off guard.

While Maryland, Virginia and the DC area are the event’s biggest draw, visitors from across the nation, and even overseas have shown up to solve the Crumland Maze. Many multicolored pushpins designate the home states of Crumland’s numerous guests on a map at the ticket booth entrance. “People bring their friends from out of town. We’ve had people from all over the world.”

On average, Crumland welcomes nearly 250 patrons per day each weekend, and recently had its best showing ever - nearly 1,000 for the maze alone - October 11-12; A turnout that the Crums hope to trump yet again before the maze closes November 2.

For those planning to visit, Crum suggests wearing good walking shoes capable of traversing the cornfield’s uneven ground and also to dress in layers. “Once you get inside, the corn blocks out the wind. Wear a jacket that you can take off when you’re in the maze, and put back on when you come out, because there’s definitely a temperature difference.”

For Crum, the event always gives him a warm feeling. “When people leave, it’s usually with a smile. It’s really nice to see people enjoying the product you’re providing. And when they promise they’ll be back next year, it makes it all worthwhile.”

The Maze at Crumland Farms, 7612 Willow Road in Frederick, is open every Saturday and Sunday from noon until dusk, with the last ticket sold 90 minutes prior to sunset. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for children, and free for kids four and under. Group rates are also available. Call 301-845-8099 for more information or visit www.crumland.com.