Who knew that getting lost could be such fun?
PORTSMOUTH, R.I. (AP) -- After retracing their steps several times, using crushed soda cans as markers and scratching directions in the dirt, Kerry Anderson and her group reached another dead end inside the corn maze -- or was it the same one they were at a few minutes ago?
By now Anderson, her two friends and their children realized they were lost.
"How do we get out of here?" Anderson's 6-year-old daughter, Adelynn, asked aloud as she rounded another corner that led nowhere.
But they didn't mind. They were enjoying the day at a corn maze at the Escobar's Highland Farm, amid densely packed cornstalks that towered eight to 10 feet tall.
Corn mazes have grown in popularity as recreational sites around the country in recent years, said Brett Herbst, founder of a Utah-based company hired by Highland Farm to design and cut the maze.
"It's a great way for families to get together," Anderson said.
Good for kids
She said navigating the maze keeps the children active and entertained at the same time. Her friend, Erin Kenny, said it helps the children cultivate their sense of direction.
"More than anything it's just enjoying the walk," said Hootie Fogg, the third mother on the outing.
The walk is divided into two levels of difficulty and covers two miles of twists and turns through an 8-acre maze shaped like the American flag.
"We wanted to do something patriotic," said Lori Clarke, who manages the maze from a wooden shed in front of the maze. For the past six years, the designs have mostly been farm animals -- a cow, a rooster, a pig or a horse. In 2004, it was in the shape of Rhode Island's Aquidneck Island, which contains Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport.
Herbst's company, MAiZE, uses a computer program to design the patterns. Herbst said the corn field is cut when the crop is about 6 inches to a foot tall. Pole markers are used to guide workers as they mow the field to form the desired pattern.
Clarke said the challenge each year is to come up with a design that is neither too difficult nor too easy to navigate through.
"We want people to get lost but not too lost," Clarke said. Sometimes, when people get too lost, they become frustrated and start cutting through the maze, which destroys the corn stalks, Clarke said.
To help those who get lost, "corn cops" patrol the maze periodically. They are maze employees armed with maps that no one else is permitted to have.
After being lost in the maze for 15 minutes, the children and their mothers decided to seek the help of a corn cop. They found their way back to the ticket booth, where corn cop Katee McLaughlin offered her help.
It was McLaughlin's first day on the job, but she directed the group confidently to the next post, giving them further instructions before leaving them to explore the maze by themselves again.
"Alright, we're on the outside track, woo hoo!" Kenny exclaimed as she pushed her 1-year-old son, Angus Chelebecek, in his stroller, up a long straight path. The other children, undaunted, ran ahead.
Before long, the group came to a bridge situated halfway along the route. With a bird's eye view of the maze, the group could admire the view from the bridge before tackling the maze again.
Kenny's 6-year-old daughter, Fiona Chelebecek, said she enjoys the thrill of getting through the maze, which took about 45 minutes for her group.
"I love getting lost," she said during a break at a picnic table before the group headed into the maze. "The only place I want to get lost is in a corn maze."
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