Local corn mazes appeal to kids, adults

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Jake Magee
Friday, August 29, 2014

JANESVILLE--Residents looking for a family friendly activity this fall don't have to look much farther than Skelly's Farm Market.

From September to Halloween, the family farm hosts tons of activities for low or no cost. The most popular attraction is the corn mazes.

The mazes' designs change each year. One of this year's two mazes is a parody of Indiana Jones. It depicts a stalk of corn wearing the explorer's signature hat while escaping evil pumpkins by swinging over a ravine.

The "Indiana Corn” maze features checkpoints with trivia questions that groups of visitors can answer. Guess correctly, and the maze points you in the right direction. A wrong guess means you might reach a dead end.

“It's one of our more fun designs we've had,” maze designer Scott Skelly said.

The other maze is called the Impossible Maze, and for good reason. Covering nine acres, the dense Impossible Maze challenges visitors with 4.8 miles of paths.

The farm even provides an “emergency” number to those who can't find their way out of the Impossible Maze and need a rescue.

On October weekends, visitors can take on the Impossible Maze after sundown for an extra challenge.

“There's enough challenge there to have a good time but not be lost all night,” Kelly said about the Indiana Corn maze.

“No promises on the Impossible Maze,” he laughed. “We've made it pretty challenging. It really does get tough to navigate.”

The real challenge is finding all 12 checkpoints within the maze. Those who do get entered in a drawing for a giant pumpkin, Skelly said.

Skelly is responsible for designing and cutting the mazes. The 26-year-old has been cutting mazes for Skelly's Farm Market since 1998. He's been freelancing his services to other farms in the Midwest and beyond since 2004.

Skelly cuts the corn with a giant lawnmower in early summer when it's about knee high. After it grows back, he goes through again, killing the crops for good.

This summer, Skelly cut mazes for about 11 farms. The year before, he cut about 20.

He's slowing down to concentrate on tending his own family farm. Fortunately, changes in technology make it easier for everyday farmers to cut their own mazes. Skelly still sells designs and equipment.

When Skelly started cutting mazes, he made designs on giant graph paper in his basement and cut fields by measuring everything manually. It was a days-long process just to cut a maze, he said.

Now, he has a custom-made GPS system that does the tedious work for him. It takes him two to four hours to cut most mazes now. The Impossible Maze can take up to seven, he said.

The GPS system allows for cleaner, more “eye-catching” designs, Skelly said.

“It's so much easier to make revisions and make changes,” Skelly said. “There's a night and day difference how we've improved over time.”

Technology is good for visitors, too. Those who take on the corn mazes can use their smartphones' GPS to guide them through the maze and answer the trivia questions, Skelly said.

Other attractions available include wagon rides, a playground, a gift shop and more. New this year is the pumpkin cannon kids can use to shoot at targets several dozen feet away.

“It's kind of like Angry Birds in real life,” Skelly said.

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