Milton's corn maze a fall must-see
MILTON -- Build it, design it, and cut it in the shape of the West Virginia Power logo, and they will come.
And usually get lost, and sometimes call for rescue.
Behind Milton Middle School, Kim and Joyce Cooper have got their own little baseball-themed "field of dreams."
For the eighth year, they have turned their seven-and-a-half-acre plot of field corn into a family-friendly maze that this year is cut out in the shape of the logo for the West Virginia Power -- the minor league baseball team based in Charleston.
Open weekends through Sunday, Nov. 2, and Tuesdays through Thursdays by appointment, The Maize has become one of the area's big weekend fall attractions. People of all ages test their directional and trivial skills to guide them through the waving, 8-foot-tall sea of corn to the end.
More often than not, there's a little bit of a celebration when families and groups hit the proverbial end zone after a good hour or so in The Maize.
"We made it, we made it," said Matthew Atkinson, 7, Megan Atkinson, 10 and Lindsay Baker-Rooney, 8, who guided their family through The Maize last Sunday.
That sound of families celebrating makes it all worth while for Kim, a principal at Milton Elementary School, and his wife Joyce, who also operate a 200-acre family farm on Route 2.
"It's something fun, just clean family fun," Joyce said as the Atkinson family stumbled out of the corn all smiles. "It's sort of three different mazes in the daylight, at night and during the haunting."
In the daytime, it takes about 45 minutes for a group to go through. However, at night the chances are you may need some assistance finding the way back.
Right now, about 40 percent of the folks who go in at dark need some help to make it back to the beginning.
Kim Cooper said he thinks this maze -- cut out and designed with the help of Dale Martin -- isn't quite as hard as the other ones, but plenty of folks are finding it difficult.
"The last group on Saturday night, it took them about two hours," Cooper said with a laugh. "It was nearly 11 o'clock when they came out."
How it works
To negotiate The Maize, you pick up one of 11 different passports, each has 10 trivia questions with themes that range from Halloween trivia to Bible trivia, to the latest movies, music and TV questions.
People walk through The Maize, come upon a crossroads and answer the appropriate question on their sheet. If you answer the question right it sends you the correct way. Answer wrong, and it sends you down the wrong path with its own twists and turns.
Jeanette Baker, who was negotiating The Maize with her boyfriend Steve Atkinson, said getting lost was part of the fun.
"It definitely got hard at about number eight," Baker said. "I think we took too many right turns and not enough lefts, but if we hadn't have taken too many rights it wouldn't have been as much fun."
To add to the fun, Kim and Joyce have added "cornundrums" at each sign post. These are drawings that are brain teasers to further test the walkers' mind power.
As 5-year-old Emily Zonker came running out of The Maize swinging a purse that matched her Crocs, Kim Cooper said that's typical -- a child leading the way.
"Kids go through it quick," Kim said laughing. "Adults try to use logic, but logic is not a part of this. Kids will usually find their way through it first."
Kim Cooper said they usually decide on the theme of The Maize at their New Year's Eve party but this year everyone seemed stumped.
It was an election year, but Cooper said although they've done a donkey and elephant in the past, they didn't want to delve into the increasingly muddy world of politics.
Other mazes have included a farm scene, an Uncle Sam, the state of West Virginia and a scarecrow driving a tractor in a pumpkin patch.
Last year, The Maize was cut into the shape of the New River Gorge Bridge, paying some props to Bridge Day, West Virginia's largest one-day festival.
"This sure was like divine intervention," Kim said. "I got to school on Jan. 3, and a guy had e-mailed from the West Virginia Power to see if we were interested in teaming up. Another farm team had done this in the Midwest. It gives them an eight-acre billboard and we get more people coming in from that way."
A craze in maize
That continual cross-pollination with other West Virginia events has helped the Coopers draw folks from around the region to come and do The Maize.
One of the few corn mazes in West Virginia (there are a couple near the Eastern Panhandle), The Maize draws thousands of people to Milton during the two-month, weekends-only season.
As many as 2,000 will go through on a busy Haunted Saturday night, and the hard-working couple is getting some recognition in farm country. They were touring the Amish country in northern Ohio earlier this summer when they were stopped by a tourist.
"We had our shirts on, and a guy hollered at us and said, 'Are you all from the corn maze in Milton?'" Kim said. "He was from Fort Gay and had been up here and had a great time."
That kind of unsolicited, ringing endorsement keeps the Coopers plodding on their sometimes muddy way.
Like any family farmers, the Coopers have been at the mercy of the weather. One year, the Mud River jumped the banks three times sending back water into the fields making The Maize a mud pit. This year, the Coopers' creation withstood an early September wind blast that oddly flattened several small patches of corn around the outside of The Maize.
And like other family farmers, the Coopers are being hammered by the high cost of everything.
"You look at fuel prices to produce a bushel of corn and it's gone up 132 percent from 1998 to 2008," Cooper said shaking his head. "That's the reason why corn flakes and everything else we're eating has gone sky-high. Everything cost more this year, from the corn and fuel to fertilizer. The average person has no idea what the average person who farms has invested. The big corn producers out in Iowa and the Midwest, my heart goes out to them."
If you go
Here's all you need to know about visiting The Maize in Milton.
WHAT: Eighth annual The Maize at Cooper Farms in Milton.
WHERE: U.S. 60 in Milton. Parking behind Milton Middle School.
GETTING THERE: Take I-64 east from Huntington to Milton. Take the Milton exit. Turn right and drive to the first stop light. Turn right on U.S. 60 West and drive to Milton Middle School (on your left). Turn left at the school and park behind the school.
HOURS: 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays; noon to 10 p.m. Saturdays, 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Also, Tuesday through Thursday by reservation. Through Sunday, Nov. 2.
COST: Admission is $7, $6.50 for ages 4 to 11 and free for children 3 and under. E-mail for reservations for a group to get a group rate.
WHAT ELSE: New this year is pick your own pumpkins. There's also corn hole, sandboxes of corn for the kids, a campfire ring, concession stand and free wagon rides.
THE HAUNTED CORN MAIZE: The Field of Screams takes place Friday and Saturday, Oct. 24-25, and Friday and Saturday, Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Haunted admission is $8 per person.
WHAT TO WEAR: Clothes and shoes that you are comfortable in and you don't mind getting a little dirty.
GROUPS: Scouts, church groups, 4-H or sports teams, there are special passports for specific groups. Birthday parties are also available.
THE RULES: No running, no picking corn, no throwing corn, no making paths, no drinking and no smoking.
CONTACT: Call 304-743-0548 or 304-634-MAZE during business hours. E-mail at email@example.com.
ON THE WEB: Go online at www.cornfieldmaze.com and click on West Virginia and Milton.
CORN MAZE HISTORY: The idea of a maze cut out of a field of corn was started in Utah in 1996 by Brett Herbst, a Salmon, Idaho, native and a 1995 Brigham Young University agribusiness graduate who spent two years working for the worldwide Farm Management Company.
His original labyrinth in American Fork, Utah, was the largest corn maze created in the western United States. It drew 18,000 people in only three weeks. Herbst has now designed more than 1,200 mazes and is currently working with more than 190 locations, including The Maize at Cooper Farms.
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