Corn mazes now are competing with fall festivals, leaf watching and pumpkin shopping as major attractions for Northeast Georgia tourists.
The area has several such bustling operations, which draw everyone from church groups to families and children brought in by yellow school buses.
The mazes, say their operators, inspire folks to challenge each other to who can wind their way first through intertwining pathways.
Others, meanwhile, choose to stroll leisurely among the tall stalks, sipping in the cool fall air and not minding the missed turn down the right pathway.
“A lot of our market is from the Atlanta area — people who don’t live around agricultural areas,” said Heath Biggers, who operates North Georgia Corn Maze between Cleveland and Helen.
Uncle Shuck’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch is one of the longest-running mazes in the area.
The Dawson County attraction is in its seventh season and, like its competitors, offers more than just a walk in the corn. It also features pony rides, pumpkins, hayrides and a bonfire where customers can roast marshmallows.
It also has an interesting history.
Michael Pinzl, or “Uncle Shuck,” pursued the business with wife Roxanne after a 2000 operation in which he donated a kidney to his brother changed his views on life.
“We thought maybe we would try something different,” Roxanne said.
Her husband, who had spent 23 years in human resources at UPS Inc., began thinking about years spent in his native Wisconsin, where “there are tons of pumpkins and just a lot to do with the fall,” said his wife.
“My husband always loved the fall, so he went online and found this corn maze idea,” she said.
The Pinzls had to start from scratch.
“We didn’t own any equipment and we didn’t own any land, so it was a little challenging at first,” Roxanne said.
Neighbors helped the couple come up with the name for the 20-acre operation at 4525 Hwy. 53 East.
“Frankly, ‘Pinzl Pumpkin Patch’ wasn’t getting it (as a name),” she said.
North Georgia Corn Maze is in its fifth year in a 7-acre site at 559 Tom Bell Road, and it also features a haunted house and 20-minute hayride.
Biggers said the maze features three miles of trails.
“I don’t want that to intimidate anybody because nobody ever walks the whole thing,” he said. “People usually end up walking through it for one to one-and-a-half hours.”
Some people make a game of the maze, seeing who can emerge from it first.
“But getting lost for a little bit in a cornfield is kind of fun,” Biggers said, indicating his preference.
Jaemor Farm Market at 5340 Cornelia Highway, or off Ga. 365, in northeast Hall, was already a popular fall stop with its produce market and pumpkins before introducing the corn maze two years ago.
The business draws 120,000 people in September and October, “so we’ve kind of got our own drawing card,” said Drew Echols, farm manager.
“We had the location and the facilities, and a lot of our regular customers had been asking about it, so we decided to put one in,” said Echols, who oversees agritourism aspects of the business, including the 7-acre maze.
The attraction also will feature pedal carts, a slide, pony rides and a hayride. Also popular is an “apple slingshot” that enables customers to fire apples at a target; apples whiz by at 80 mph, Echols said.
Buck’s Corn Maze is located in northern Dawson County and covers over 9 acres of land. This year’s maze is cut into the shape of a bear.
Buck’s Corn Maze also offers hayrides, a haunted maze (in October) and a concession stand.
Many mazes have a design theme.
Uncle Shuck’s has an elephant and a donkey carved out of the corn, paying homage to this year’s elections.
Jaemor’s maze depicts a cowboy riding a horse, supporting a Western theme. And it’s interactive, featuring questions at different stops about the U.S.’s Western expansion.
That way, “you’re not just wandering aimlessly,” Echols said.
North Georgia Corn Maze began four years ago with “alien” crop circles and has stuck by that theme, just tweaking the design each year, Biggers said.
So when the season is done, what happens to all that corn?
“It’s all cattle farm up here, so in the winter, we just release the cattle back into the pasture and they consume all the corn,” Biggers said.