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Amaizeingly simple: Engwall's corn maze design is simpler than you’d think

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A group enters Engwall’s corn maze. The maze covers more than 100,000 square feet and contains about 4,000 feet of paths. The shortest route through the maze is about 1,600 feet long. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com 2 / 5
Cole (from left), Randi, Allie and Mark Nyholm explore Engwall’s corn maze recently. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 5
In addition to touring the corn maze, visitors to Engwall's can go on hayrides. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Engwall’s corn maze includes markers for a letter and two trivia games. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 5

After exiting Engwall's Corn Maze, Dan and Chris Donovan were waiting to try their hand at the corn cannon with their daughter and four grandchildren.

They successfully found their way out of the corn maze on a recent Saturday afternoon, only getting lost one time, and the kids had fun, Chris said. They were visiting their grandchildren and decided it was a nice day to try the corn maze for the first time.

"It was a good way to spend Saturday afternoon," Dan said.

As families were coming and going from the corn maze, parents watched children play in the mini-corn maze, where they could slide into a corn pit, and families lined up to take hay rides together.

With Halloween just days away, many Northlanders have been visiting the William A. Irvin Haunted Ship. Some are even getting excited for Bentleyville already. Engwall's Corn Maze in Hermantown is another classic fall tradition.

The Engwall's maze spans roughly 3 acres of land, which is a lot smaller than many other corn mazes across the country, said Rod Saline, designer of the maze. He said most other mazes have the luxury of using farm land and weave through 10 to 15 acres.

Although the 3-acre size has provided some design challenges, Saline has found ways around it.

"We knew that our paths couldn't or shouldn't be as wide as those that have more land to work with," he said. "So what we did is just took a look at the parcels that we've got, and I just start mapping things out."

When Saline "maps things out" he does so the old-fashioned way. No computers, no GPS, just a sheet of paper and a pen. The extent of his design process includes a large circle with long lines and arrows pointing in different directions. In past years he's tried making pictures and words out of the maze, but Saline ditched that effort because it was more of a marketing ploy than anything, and people couldn't see the images once inside the maze. He said that there are really only two things he aims for when drawing maze: including enough dead ends for all the different games people can play (this year there are 31) and making sure it's not too similar to last year's design.

"It's really a pretty simple, basic process," Saline said.

Tracy Lundeen, who partners with Saline on the corn maze, noted that the maze activities include trivia games for kids and more challenging games for adults. The games help add an element of fun to the maze, while getting parents and kids to interact and bond.

"It makes you feel good when you see that going on. There's not enough fun family time," Lundeen said.

After the drawing phase is done, the next step is to go out and cut the paths — another process Saline takes care of in a vintage manner. Where other corn mazes might have access to tractors, he uses a walk-behind weed eater to cut the entire maze by himself. That may sound like a lot of work, but Saline said the process takes him only about an hour and a half to two hours.

"I'll carry one of my maps with, and the fields are small enough so I know about where I'm at, and I just carve the paths accordingly," he said.

Saline said he usually begins drawing the maps at the end of June. Then he cuts the corn when it grows 1- to 2-feet-high, which typically happens in the beginning of July. Lundeen noted that the corn maze is dependent on the corn's condition. After they plant the corn, "we're at the mercy of sun and rain," he said. The average corn stalk reaches at least 6 feet, so most people can't see over the corn maze walls, he said.

They use about 250,000 seeds and had to plant a week late this year due to the wet conditions in the spring, but that didn't affect the opening of the corn maze, Lundeen said.

Halloween events are planned at the corn maze next Saturday. During the day, children can trick-or-treat their way through the corn maze to collect candy and compete in a costume contest. The corn maze will be turned into a "field of screams" that evening, with actors and sound effects taking place throughout the maze, Lundeen said.

The corn maze also hosts field trips throughout the season, including area preschoolers, kindergartners and students with special needs. The field trips include a presentation on field corn and a hay ride, along with a seed to take back to school so students can watch their own corn plant grow.

On top of the corn maze, Engwall's has a mini-maze for kids, a corn cannon and hay rides and more. The maze's final weekend is coming up — Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets cost $8 for those ages 12 and older and $7 for kids younger than 12. Children younger than 24 months receive free entry. For more information, go to lundeenproductions.com/cornmaze, or visit its Facebook page.

News Tribune reporter Lisa Kaczke contributed to this report.

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