GUILFORD -- There are equal parts art and science behind building a proper corn maze.
And the Gaines family has got it down: From computer-aided generation of complex twists and turns to removal of small rocks to ensure paths are relatively stroller-friendly, the Guilford farm is hosting a state-of-the-art maze that retains its old-fashioned charm.
"We're into it," Jackie Gaines said outside the entrance to the maze on Thursday. "We're continually trying to find ways of becoming better every year."
The Gaines Farm maze, on Route 5 south of Algiers Village near the Massachusetts border, opens today and runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekend through Oct. 27. It's part of a long list of activities at the historic farm including "pumpkin bowling," "farm croquet" and a haunted hay ride.
"We have a lot of new games this year," Gaines said.
More information, including schedules and prices, is available at www.gainesfarm.com.
Though this weekend is the maze's formal kickoff, the family has been working for a long time to transform seven acres of corn into an entertainment complex. There's nothing random about it, and the process started when the corn was planted in late spring.
"We plant it later so that it will stay green later," Gaines said.
With assistance from a consultant and a computer, the family settles on a design for the pathways: Last year, when
This year's design features a farm scene including a tractor. The shapes were carefully plotted out in the corn field.
"You walk through and mark it with different-colored flags," Gaines said. "That will tell you where you have to remove the corn."
Corn is removed earlier in the season to form paths; the job is painstaking and time consuming, Gaines said.
The result, though, is a clear, relatively smooth path through 10-foot-high corn. Gaines said it takes, on average, 45 minutes to an hour to get through the maze "depending on a person's navigational skills."
There are quizzes posted throughout -- aptly titled "CORNundrums" -- that provide some clues on which way to turn. And assistance is available, Gaines said, for those who get very lost.
The maze, which is in its fourth year, is attracting growing crowds. School groups have visited, and Gaines said two companies even used the site for team-building exercises.
The family has added some twists: On Saturday evenings through Oct. 8, there are twilight strolls through the maze.
That's billed as a "non-scary" event. Not so the haunted maze, which features enough freaky features that the family has set up a separate corn field to host it.
"It is haunted," Gaines said with a suddenly serious look on her face. "It's really scary."
She added that organizers have gone to "haunt conventions" to hone their craft.
That's one example of how the mazes and associated activities are a true family affair: In addition to Gaines and her husband, sons Joel, Kyle and Brad join members of the extended family and friends to help make it all happen each fall.
"We're really fortunate that we have so many people come out and help us," Gaines said.
All events are targeted at family participation, as well. Gaines said it's not uncommon to see three generations arriving together.
That ties in with another big reason for the maze's existence: The 200-acre Gaines Farm has been in the same family for eight generations, and alternative sources of revenue can help keep it that way.
"We try to do as many things as we can to keep going," Gaines said. "We want to keep the land in one big parcel and pass it down to future generations."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
This video was originally shot at the maze in 2010.