It’s fitting that Patuxent River is a naval air station because the sky is where you need to be to fully appreciate the large corn maze pattern celebrating Pax River’s 70 years of community partnership in becoming the center of excellence for naval aviation.
This year, Bowles Farms’ A’Maze’N Place, just 20 miles northwest of the air station in Clements, Md., chose to feature the anniversary of NAS Patuxent River for its 15-acre corn maze design, now in its 13th season.
“Each year, as a family, we discuss ideas for designs and the designs have to be [based] around events or milestones in Maryland,” said Nancy Wallace, a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) employee, who, along with her husband Ricky, assists in managing the farm owned by her parents, Tommy and Tina Bowles.
Wallace, with the NAVAIR Acquisition Workforce Development and Training Office (AIR 1.5), said the idea was suggested by her mother, who had read an article in a local newspaper about the installation’s anniversary celebration.
“We all know that this county is what it is today because of the base,” Wallace said, “so selecting this as our design was an easy choice.”
Maze planning begins early in the year, but the corn is planted as late as possible in order to keep it green and tall, which makes for a more challenging maze.
“There really isn’t a desired height we’re trying to reach,” Wallace said. “As most farmers will tell you, your crop is only as good as Mother Nature will allow, but we did install underground irrigation a few years ago to keep the corn maze going in dry weather conditions. That was very helpful last year when we all suffered through a drought.”
The Bowles’ family works with a Utah company which translates their design into a maze layout and then physically cuts out the maze each year when the corn is about a foot tall.
“The layout is done on a grid system,” Wallace said. “They mark the trails with mini flags and then they cut the corn with lawnmowers in one day.”
After that, Wallace’s uncle, Bill Gainey, maintains the trails as the corn grows.
A series of twists and turns, the maze is broken into two phases with one more difficult than the other.
“This year, both phases are pretty challenging,” Wallace said, “and for the [young] kids who want to have the maze experience without the overwhelming size of the big maze, we’ve created a small kids maze in the corn.”
Each guest or group is given a flag when they enter. There are Corn Cops who patrol the maze and a lookout tower that ensures constant oversight of everything taking place within the maze. Wallace also explained that guests are given a map to consult, if needed, and there are questions inside the maze that can help when people arrive at a turn they’re not sure about.
“All a guest has to do is raise their flag and one of our Corn Cops will assist them,” she said. “It usually takes between 30 to 45 minutes per phase, but that depends on how good you are and if you’re using the map or not. But getting lost is part of the fun.”
The first corn maze opened in 2001 after Tommy Bowles read an article in a farming publication about a farm that featured a corn maze and a pumpkin patch in the fall — something known as agritainment.
“My dad knew the non-farm population of our county was growing and he thought it was a perfect time to try something like that,” Wallace said. “At first, my family had thought he truly lost it and it took a little convincing — but here we are in our 13th season.”
A’Maze’N Place opens Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 27. Hours of operation are Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Monday through Friday by appointment. Admission is $10. Children ages 3 and younger are free. Other activities are also available for children, and families can pick pumpkins for an additional fee. For more information, visit www.bowlesfarms.com.