In our series, American Wonders, we’re exploring places that make America wonderful, from majestic natural landscapes to spectacular manmade creations.
They were lost. Fifth-graders, zigzagging through the Richardson Adventure Farm, thinking “We gotta find a way out. Or this field trip could be our last.”
The Illinois corn maze is rural sprawl: 28 acres in all with almost 10 miles of trails.
“We said if we’re gonna do it, why not be the world’s largest?” George Richardson told CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann. He’s a fifth generation family farmer. In 2001, they built their first corn maze and started telling people to get lost.
“They’re in a wall of corn. That’s the idea. So it’s extra dense from what a regular cornfield would be,” Richardson said.
Every year a graphic designer creates an intricate schematic. Planting starts in May. When the crop is nine inches tall, a tractor tills the trails by GPS. Come September, corn nine feet tall towers over visitors.
“It can be disorienting… but that’s part of the fun,” Richardson said.
Several hundred feet up, you’ll find something else. This maze honors the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The theme changes every year. In 2013, they had a Beatles maze where you could see the faces of the stars.
“That great aerial photograph,” Richardson said. “We want people to go, ‘Wow. That’s a magnificent picture.'”
There are as many as 80,000 visitors a year. And here’s a little maze secret: it’s design makes sure all of them get out.
Three pedestrian bridges double as landmarks. A series of 24 checkpoints guides you around.
“We don’t want people to be lost forever, you know?” Richardson said. “People stumbling around the next morning… So now we’ve gone to designing it with virtually no dead ends in the design. All the trails loop around and connect with each other.”
Our Illinois 5th graders thought they’d need a search party. But they’ll all make it back to Johnsburg Elementary School. “I thought it was gonna be very easy. But it turned out to be very hard. And I thought this was gonna be my new home,” one student said.
Sometimes you have to get lost to find the fun.
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