Starting Sept. 10 at 4 p.m., anyone who loves the Washington Redskins and a good old-fashioned cornfield maze will get to experience a kind of nirvana: an 11-acre cornfield maze commemorating Joe Gibbs' return to the Redskins.
For the fifth year in a row, the cornfield at Temple Hall Regional Park outside Leesburg has been carved into a convoluted pattern designed to keep families wandering through 10-foot cornstalks. The MAiZE, as it's known, has featured patterns with a pastoral theme in the past: the cow jumping over the moon, a horse pulling a wagon of pumpkins, "American Gothic." This year, however, organizers went with a more contemporary theme.
"We try to think of what might be popular," said Rick Stevens, Temple Hall Park manager. "The Redskins and Joe Gibbs have received a lot of coverage, so it was like, well, some of the staff is Redskins fans."
This year, mazegoers can get lost in a corn football field, Joe Gibbs' sunglasses or even the words "Welcome Back Joe." Last year, more than 11,000 people navigated the maze. The Temple Hall Farm staff hopes that the publicity from the theme — maybe a cutaway shot during halftime on a televised Redskins game, for example, will bring even more people to the MAiZE.
The MAiZE has become the largest fundraising effort at Temple Hall Farm, a working farm that was bequested to the regional park authority by the late A.V. Symington, who lived there for 40 years.
SO HOW DOES an 11-acre cornfield become a maze cut in the shape of Joe Gibbs' head?
It helps to have a world-class cornfield maze designer on your side.
Brett Herbst founded the design company MAiZE in 1996. Located in American Fork, Utah, Herbst's company has designed over 625 mazes all over the world. Temple Hall Farm has worked with him since starting its own maze in 1999.
"You can always take the boy out of the farm, but you can't take the farm out of the boy," said Herbst, who grew up on his father's farm but left to attend Brigham Young University and work in agribusiness before founding the company.
According to Herbst, just about any pattern is possible.
"We've done a little bit of all sorts of stuff," he said, including mazes in the shapes of President George Bush and U.S. Sen. John Kerry.
"Some people have exactly what they want," he said. In Temple Hall Farm's case, creating the maze is "a collaborative effort" mostly done over email.
After determining a final pattern (mapped out on a computer), Herbst's staff flew out to Temple Hall Farm to stake out the cornfield. At that point, not long after the corn is planted in the third week of June, the cornstalks are only about a foot in height, making the process a bit more manageable.
The entire 11 acres is cordoned off into an grid, and workers cut the cornstalks according to the plan.
"They take it section by section and go from 8.5 by 11 [inches] to 450 by 1,000 [feet]," said Stevens.
A LITTLE FOOTBALL knowledge will help mazers conquer the cornfield, as trivia questions will give hints at crucial junctions. The MAiZE will be open on Fridays from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Columbus Day Monday. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 11, and free for children 5 and under. The MAiZE will be open weekends until Oct. 31.