Ah, to be a bird. Perhaps a pudgy blue jay, stretching its wings over Stark County’s Marlboro Township. What a sight it could see: an extraordinary piece of art only visible from the air.
This is the 14th year that Bill Bakan, co-owner of Maize Valley Farm Market & Winery, has been creating corn mazes. And this year, it’s a train — so all aboard for 8 acres of fun and discovery.
“Everybody loves trains,” Bakan said.
A few years ago, he began to cut mazes by using a GPS, downloading a design into the software. It’s remarkably accurate, Bakan explained, and as simple as keeping an eye on the computer screen mounted on the dash of his mower to see what path to take.
The first maze Bakan cut, without the help of a GPS, was the Goodyear blimp.
“I just thought it was all that and a bag of chips,” he said, laughing, noting that he’s learned a lot since then.
The designs continued to develop — and have come with some unexpected perks along the way.
In 2004, Bakan, who co-owns the business with his wife, Michelle, and her family, the Vaughans, talked to a designer about a maze depicting NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip’s car.
“The design popped. It looked like it was going 200 mph in a cornfield,” Bakan said, grinning. “It was a maze, but it was also art. It was like looking at a painting. It took a minute for your brain to realize it was a cornfield.”
So cool was the design that Waltrip, who had a program on the old Speed channel, decided to pay Bakan a visit.
“Michael’s plane came into Akron-Canton [Airport], he chartered a helicopter and flew out here with a Speed TV crew. They landed on the property,” Bakan explained.
As the 50-year-old entrepreneur recalled, Waltrip walked up to the cornfield and said, “I kind of feel like Chevy Chase in Vacation when he walks up to the Grand Canyon,” glances quickly and walks away.
Bakan suspects the race car driver came to see if the maze was real.
Maize Valley has lots of activities, including a cannon that launches pumpkins more than half a mile.
“I asked Michael if he would like to fire the pumpkin cannon. He had so much fun,” Bakan said. “Give a big gun that shoots pumpkins to a guy from North Carolina and … he thinks it’s the next best thing to sex.”
From the publicity Bakan received from the NASCAR maze, he had enough clout to create the popular BigFoot monster truck design the following year.
“I had a BigFoot [truck] … sit here for six weeks. Kids actually hugged the truck,” he said, chuckling. “They loved it.”
In addition to the maze and pumpkin cannon, patrons can take a wagon ride through the surrounding fields, enjoy the sight of the ripening grapes and visit the pumpkin patch.
Kids can play on the giant straw bale pile, crawl through the maze of tractor tires and giggle at the pig races. Adults might be interested in checking out the wines — red, white, port-style and fruit — or the food menu.
Bakan says the secret behind Maize Valley’s success is the family’s willingness to change the business to meet new trends; quite an evolution for a family that was selling produce out of a used pop-up camper just 17 years ago.
It’s impossible to tell from the ground what the maze looks like, so why bother with such an elaborate design?
“I have to get the Michael Waltrips here,” he said.
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.