BLACKFOOT, Idaho — Produce farmer Richard Johnson expects his family’s annual fall corn maze and associated agricultural tourism activities to cover college tuition for all seven of his children.
Since starting his Wild Adventure Corn Maze six years ago, Johnson estimates he’s averaged more than 13,000 visitors per season — ranging from peak years of about 20,000 customers to an unprofitable maze last fall, when 9 inches of rain fell in eight weeks.
He and his family also operate Grove City Gardens, a large produce farm that also offers a CSA.
This year’s maze, carved into a 12-acre corn field, encompasses more than 6 miles of pathways, which form the images of a nurse, a fireman and a police officer when viewed from the sky. Johnson explained the theme is “heroes.” Local emergency responders and military members get reduced admission daily, and get in for free during a special Sept. 30 tribute to hometown heroes. The maze opened Sept. 18 and will run every Monday through Saturday until Nov. 4.
Johnson said his oldest son, Bryce, has already earned a business degree at Brigham Young University-Idaho, with his tuition covered by maze revenue. Now the maze is supporting Utah State University tuition for his daughter, Marissa, and son, Jeremy. Four younger children will follow suit.
On weekends during harvest season, Marissa and Jeremy head home from school in Logan, Utah, to lend their family a hand in running the operation, which includes the region’s largest pumpkin patch, four mini ziplines, farm-raised Mexican crazy corn and other concessions, a petting zoo, a Toddler Town with peddle carts and rocking horses, displays on how food is produced, ticket booths in retrofitted grain silos, a straw-bale maze and three different games to play in the corn maze.
Marissa said working the maze has also padded her resume and provided fodder for discussions in her strategic sales class.
“It’s a big weight lifted off my shoulders not having to worry about finances and having to pay for everything,” Marissa said.
Those who enter the maze are tasked with collecting rubbings of animal tracks, solving the mystery of who kidnapped Farmer Joe or scoring the most points in a “treasure hunt.”
For the brave of heart, Idaho State University’s Beta Alpha Psi chapter will host its Third Annual Zombie Fun Run in the maze at 6 p.m. Oct. 21, benefiting the fraternity and the nonprofit organization Junior Achievement of Idaho.
Sheldon Anderson, of Beta Alphi Psi, explained runners are given flags, which zombies attempt to steal, and are eligible for raffle prizes if they make it through with at least one flag remaining.
Johnson hosted his family reunion in the maze prior to opening day and offers discounted rates for field trips by local school classes.
Past maze themes have included the Idaho Potato Commission’s 75th anniversary, Idaho wildlife, Duck Dynasty, Lewis and Clark and Race to the Moon. Johnson said he chose the hero theme to show the community’s appreciation for police and other emergency responders.
“You look at the discontent across the country and you see how some of these people aren’t really appreciated for all of the sacrifices they make,” Johnson said. “They give up everything to take care of those of us who may be in need.”
The maze was designed and planted by Shawn Stolworthy, of MazePlay based in Firth, Idaho. Stolworthy is one of the few maze designers planting mazes in their ultimate designs, rather than cutting paths out of solid fields.
Stolworthy, who has been in the corn maze business for two decades and has created about 110 mazes in roughly 40 states this year, traveling the country in his motor home. Stolworthy said corn mazes are becoming increasingly intricate and continue to grow in popularity nationwide.