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How 12 Acres Of Cornfield Became A Maze At Eckert’s Millstadt Fun Farm

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Evie Hemphill
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Matt and Shauna Sweeney and their daughter Ailish survey the corn maze from the bridge that’s located within it.

Whether it’s taking in the Great Forest Park Balloon Race, going to a pick-your-own pumpkin patch or experiencing Belleville’s Oktoberfest, the fall season in the St. Louis area is chock-full of family traditions. For some families, those traditions involve a visit to an elaborate corn maze at the Eckert’s location in Millstadt, Illinois.

But prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hugh McPherson wondered whether people were getting away from getting outside. That’s until people began to put greater value on outdoor activities in 2020 — and the comments he received about the corn maze at his farm in Pennsylvania came in. “We are so thankful that there is somewhere we can go and get out of the house, get off the screen and just be together,” he recalled mazegoers telling him.

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Eckert’s Millstadt Fun Farm features a corn maze design submitted by a high school student under the theme “Health Care Heroes.”

McPherson is the owner and founder of Maize Quest, a company that designs and cuts corn mazes throughout the country, including at Eckert’s for nearly a decade. This year’s design cut into 12 acres of cornfield honors health care workers. The hand-drawn sketch was submitted by Ryleigh Thompson, a student at Freeburg Community High School. There’s a heart, a caduceus, and the letters spell out “our heroes.”

Making a corn maze the size of the one at Eckert’s Farm in Millstadt used to take up to four or five days.

“The way we used to do it is by hand, and we'd make one small block on the paper equal one really big block in the cornfield,” McPherson explained Monday on St. Louis on the Air. “We would mark everything out first and make sure that we had it all right, and then we’d go through with walk-behind rototillers and till out every edge of every pathway until it was perfect.”

Now, it takes just five to seven hours. That’s because of advances in technology, particularly GPS on tractors.

“[The year] 2004 is kind of the first time we found a GPS unit that was declassified and accurate enough and affordable enough for us farmers to get ahold of that we could start laying out the mazes using GPS,” McPherson said. “As things have gotten better and better, now we can actually have the GPS unit on the tractor, and we can use the tractor to cut. We don't even have to mark it out in advance. Everything is so precise. Now we can go through in one pass.”

Listen: How A Corn Maze Is Made

There will be no break for McPherson and his crew come winter. That’s when they start to design mazes for the next fall season.

“Mazes have become this integral part of the fall experience. They aren't going away, just like apple orchards aren't going away and pumpkin patches aren't going away,” McPherson said. “[With mazes,] you get that family victory. Where else can you go with somebody in a stroller, somebody almost too cool to hang out with the parents — that big age range? And [when] you're in something this big, you have got to work together. And I think that's the magic of mazes.”

Listen to the audio to hear from McPherson and from people at Eckert’s who over the weekend talked about their maze experience.

Related Event

What: Activities at Eckert’s Millstadt Fun Farm
When: Wednesdays through Sundays this fall (corn maze open Friday through Sunday)
Where: Eckert’s Fun Farm (2719 Eckert Orchard Lane, Millstadt, IL 62260) More information

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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