Mathew Hughes has big plans for the future of Uncle Shuck’s corn maze.
Owner and operator of the business that called Hwy. 53 on Gober Hill home for the past 17 years, Hughes recently moved the corn maze, and the recognizable red barn, across town.
The new location straddles Hwy. 9 between Rock Creek Park and the Dawson County Middle School, and like the Hwy. 53 location, is also next to the Etowah River.
Due to limited room and having to lease the Hwy. 53 space yearly from the property owner, Hughes, 30, said the move makes sense for the business because he now owns the property the corn maze will inhabit.
He said he now has 48 acres to work with, when before he had 26.
“We kind of reached our peak where we were really,” Hughes said. “We have roughly 40,000 visitors a year and we were running out of space.”
The cornfield will remain the same size, about 13 acres, and the barn, the former ticket booth, will be used as the gift shop.
Hughes said he is looking to expand the activities offered and be open for more than just the fall season.
“It will be nice to bring in some new attractions; we have a lot of repeat customers so it’s nice to give them a change,” he said. “Not sure if that is going to be this year or not, but we’re working on it."
Additions could include gem mining, sunflowers, farm tours and more educational opportunities for school children, along with the hayrides, concessions, merchandise and pumpkin sales. The main goal will be adding attractions for all ages.
“Before we were kind of more of a teen/tween deal, we didn’t have room for more small children activities, so we get to expand on that and it will be more of a full-family service,” Hughes said.
The farm will be a working farm used for crop production, hay production, and house some animals like goats and cattle.
Hughes said in addition to the added space, the new location will be much safer for drivers to enter and exit.
“We have one major accident (on Gober Hill) a year,” Hughes said. “It’s always someone sitting in the center lane to turn in, and people don’t stop.”
The new entrance will be on Bannister Road instead of Hwy. 9, and will be able to accommodate larger buses and RVs better than the previous location.
Both the former and current locations are the same height from the river, and beaver dams have been holding up work on the site, Hughes said.
He is hoping to get a new special use business license from the county to become an official operation as soon as possible.
Mike Pinzl started the business almost 18 years ago, and hired Hughes on to work the corn maze when he was 15.
“Each year it just seemed like I took on more responsibility,” Hughes said. “I just went up through the steps and two years ago we worked out a deal, he was ready to retire, and I purchased it from him.”
Hughes pays it forward by hiring high school students each year to help sell tickets and supervise the maze and hayrides.
“We usually have about 32 employees, and there is probably eight employees that come back every year, who started in high school. Most of the new hires are from the high school,” he said. “The high school is very helpful in finding us help.”
Having started from the bottom himself, Hughes is sympathetic for those whose first time job is at the maze.
“To me it’s the fun part, that it’s their first time job,” he said. “They’re always so nervous but it's really easy once you get the hang of it. They like it because they get to be outside and get to trade work zones.”
The high school workers don’t do any of the skilled work, as Hughes hires a company out of Idaho to cut the maze, using a GPS that is accurate up to three inches. The company cuts out the maze, whether it is pre-designed or custom, as well as provides maps and tickets.
The corn maze also plays host to the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts two weekends in the fall, as well as a foster family day where foster children and their families can visit the maze for free.
For more information about upcoming events and attractions, keep an eye on www.uncleshucks.com for updates.