The Maize Quest at Pilgram Farms drew about 6,000 visitors last year.
By HAROLD GWIN
VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU
FREDONIA, Pa.-- There's a huge sailing ship in a field just north of this central Mercer County town, but you can't board it nor will it ever sail away.
It's a maze in the shape of the Mayflower, sailing on the Atlantic Ocean, carved out of a 10-acre cornfield at Pilgram Farms, at 190 Eich Road in Fairview Township.
The maze is an official Maize Quest Cornfield Maze, and the franchise is held by Chris and Sandy Pilgram, the fourth generation on the family farm.
The Pilgrams have an interest in agriculture education, and after hearing about cornfield mazes elsewhere, they decided to put one on their farm.
It's one of 28 official Maize Quest sites now operating in the United States and Canada.
"We wanted to get people out onto the farm," Sandy said.
That wish has been granted.
Opened last year
They opened their first maze last year in the same field, done as a wild west theme featuring a cowboy astride a rearing horse, and drew about 6,000 visitors.
Why the Mayflower?
"We're Pilgrams," was their joint reply, adding that they're accepting suggestions for next year's maze.
Because the maze is carved out of living material (about 500,000 cornstalks fill the field), it's open only in the late summer and fall while the corn is tall.
When the season ends, the field is harvested just like a regular cornfield, Chris said.
The maze is laid out when the corn is about eight inches high, and it takes four to six people about a week to do it, Chris said.
Hours this year
Their maze opened in mid-August this year and is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 3. Rainy days can close the maze, because the paths get muddy and slippery.
"We do get a lot of college groups coming through," Sandy said, adding that church youth groups find it a popular pastime as well.
School classes also visit, and teachers are able to work the maze, particularly this year's Mayflower, into their curriculum, she said
The maze provides outdoor adventure in a safe environment, she said.
They've hired 20 part-time employees to run the operation, and their children, Jenna, 8, and Skyler, 6, love to help out, whether it be directing people in the maze or working at the concession stand.
There aren't many rules.
Visitors aren't allowed to smoke or run in the maze, nor can they cut through the corn to get from one pathway to another. Foul language is also discouraged.
"Most people just come for the fun," Chris said.
What's it like?
Most visitors are able to find their way through the three-to-four miles of paths in the field, and there is a game to the adventure requiring participants to decipher clues and answer questions about the original Mayflower and the pilgrims it brought to America.
They've added a children's obstacle course and straw mound to climb as well as a small maze in a wheat field adjacent to the corn maze.
They also offer hay rides and campfires for groups.
The Pilgrams get their maze designs from Maize Quest, an agricultural entertainment company and franchise operator based in York County, Pa. It was founded in 1997 by Hugh McPherson and began offering franchises in 1999.
Its goal is to turn an ordinary cornfield into a life-size game board offering both entertainment and education. The maze design at each location reflects a particular theme with a storyline and corresponding game sheets.
Sandy said people entering the Pilgram's maze are given a flag, and their progress is monitored by a maze master atop a two-story platform overlooking the field.
Anyone ready to ask for help to get out can simply wave the flag and employees will find them, she said.
Most make it out on their own, though sometimes they wind up coming out the way they went in. Often, those people turn right around and go back in, determined to find the right exit, Chris said.