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A look at this years maze design cut into the corn fields at the Meuer Farm near Chilton, Wisconsin. Fond du Lac Reporter

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BROTHERTOWN - It's been a decade since Dave Meuer decided he was tired of milking cows. 

The fourth-generation farmer who owns and operates a 150-acre farm with his wife, Leslie Meuer, said back in 2009 he was looking to shake things up. He chose the path of agritourism — the melding of agriculture and tourism — and soon he'd established his family farm nine miles west of Chilton as a true entertainment destination, thanks in part to the 2.5-mile corn maze that occupies 10 acres of his land every summer and fall. 

The 10th annual corn maze opens to the public at Meuer Farm on Friday and will welcome thousands of wanderers through the last weekend of October. 

Meuer said on a good year they'll get close to 20,000 people at their property near the east coast of Lake Winnebago. If the weather's especially cold or wet during the autumn weekends — like it was in 2017 — they'll see maybe half that.

Visitors mostly come from within an hour or two away, but as the world map pinned up inside the base building shows, people come from all over. Guests have logged their visits from as far as Japan, Australia, Argentina, the southern tip of South Africa and the northern coast of Greenland. 

Why's it there?

Meuer is a fourth-generation farmer, and his Brothertown farm has been in the family since his parents bought it in 1969. Meuer took over in 1994. 

After so many years of the same old routines, and with his son looking to get more involved in the family business, Meuer hatched a plan. Not only did they construct their first corn maze and invite all comers, they planted strawberries for the first time and began welcoming pickers. They also tapped trees and started making maple syrup.

To pair with the corn maze, the Meuers started offering hayrides as a way to show off their operation and provide a little agricultural education.

"We don't try to junk it up like a carnival here," Meuer said. "It's a place to learn about farming and learn about our foods and learn about our grains and our flowers and what we do here on the farm." 

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The stops on the 45-minute hayride include visits to see the grass-fed cows and calves that are grazing, the 4,000 black walnut trees on the property (that happen to have been planted by Meuer about 40 years ago), the beekeeping and honey production operation and the woods that are providing the farm with maple syrup. 

The corn maze, however, remains the main attraction. It's open to the public seven straight weekends and available during the weekdays for school field trips, corporate gatherings and other groups. It's split into two phases — one about three acres that's a little less complicated and time consuming and another of about seven acres that sometimes can take hours to solve. 

How's it made? 

One of the first rules of cutting a corn maze, apparently, is you don't talk about cutting a corn maze. What Meuer would divulge, though, is it's a Utah-based consulting and design company called the Maize, which calls itself "the world's largest corn maze family," that plays a big part. (It's the Maize that makes him sign a confidentiality agreement to not spill the secrets of the construction.)

The design ideas come from the Meuers, and the Maize designers figure out how to make it work. They show up for one workday in June, just a group of four people, and cut out the maze when the corn is about a foot high. By opening weekend, the maze walls stand about 8 feet tall. 

This year's design appropriately celebrates the 10th anniversary of the farm as a tourist destination. Along with the name Meuer Farm are cutouts of strawberries, bees and honeycomb, a cow and a calf, and two big jack-o-lanterns. Past designs have included tributes to Donald Driver after his retirement and celebrations of significant anniversaries for "The Simpsons" and Elvis Presley. 

How's it work?

The funny thing about such an elaborate corn maze is, while its creative design is easily admired from the sky, once you're in it there's no telling whether you're in the strawberry in the northwest corner or the 2018 in the southeast.

Along the way you'll encounter sign posts. Each comes with a multiple choice trivia question to guide you along. Each answer is matched with a specific direction ("turn around," "turn right," etc.), so answering correctly keeps you on the right path. If you get the question wrong, chances are you'll see that same sign post again, Meuer said. 

Another form of help comes from the "corn cops." A few maze experts can be found in set locations, including a raised wooden bridge, that can offer help when needed. They're especially key for folks who need to bail to use the bathroom or who've simply grown tired and don't want to end up like Jack Nicholson at the end of "The Shining." 

Meuer said the maze is especially a sight after dark. Guests are given glow sticks to guide them and on peak nights there can be upwards of 500 people trying to find their way through the stalks.  

A decent pair of walking shoes are necessary. The paths are dirt and mulch and you're likely to log a few miles before long. Bug spray is also a good idea — the recent bouts of heavy rain have made the maze attractive to mosquitoes too.

Want to check out the maze without all that getting lost business? Meuer Farm will have helicopter rides from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 22 and 23. For other special events in the weeks ahead, visit meuerfarm.com.

If you go

What: Meuer Farm corn maze
Where: N2564 U.S. 151, Chilton
When: Sept. 15-Oct. 28
Hours: noon-10 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m.-dusk Sundays. Ticket sales end 30 minutes before closing time. 
Cost: $10 ages 10 and older daytime, $5 ages 3-9 daytime, free ages 2 and younger; $10 ages 10 and older at night, $8 ages 3-9 at night, free ages 2 and younger. Group discounts available. 
Also: Other activities on the farm include hayrides, animals, tube slide, corn cannons and a pumpkin patch.
Info: meuerfarm.com, 920-418-2676

 

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