Jim Lowe is standing in the middle of a field surrounded by one-foot tall corn stalks. He’s staring at a piece of paper in one hand. In the other hand is a long, strange-looking contraption with a trigger at the top and a can of fluorescent-orange spray paint lodged upside-down at the bottom of it.
He looks up from the paper, then back down at the paper, and then up again.
Suddenly, he quickly walks forward seven steps. He stops, turns 90 degrees, and walks 12 more steps. He darts across the cornfield on an angle taking nine steps.
Each time he walks, he rhythmically pulls the trigger on the gadget holding the can of marking paint, creating a bright-orange, dotted line through the corn.
This continues for hours. Walk. Spray. Stop. Turn. Look at paper. Look at corn. Walk. Spray. Turn. Walk. Spray. Turn. Stop.
“It’s a lot of walking in circles,” he says, walking in a circle.
Although Lowe’s movements may seem random and all over the place, they’re not.
Each turn and each dotted line is carefully mapped out and marked, both in the cornfield and on the blueprints in his hand.
Lowe is marking the pathways for this year’s design at the Chilliwack Corn Maze.
It’s not a simple job. First the corn is planted, both north-south and then east-west, to create a square graph to work with. The rows are counted and then information is sent to the designers where they draw the maze design on a blueprint.
Once the corn has grown to about a foot, that’s when Lowe, a corn maze expert from Idaho, comes in. He measures and marks the field in 50-foot square quadrants with pink flags that can be seen from a distance. The large quadrants in the cornfield correspond with the small squares in the blueprints.
The owners of the corn maze, the Bruinsma and Taekema families, are proud of the fact that their maze is not mapped by GPS.
“It’s not even out a foot. It’s very accurate,” says co-owner Lloyd Taekema.
It takes about a day to map the field and mark the pathways with orange paint. If Lowe makes a mistake in marking the pathways, he erases the line simply by kicking the earth over so the paint no longer shows.
When the marking is done, it takes another day for Lowe, Taekema, and other co-owner, John Bruinsma, to follow the orange dotted line and cut the corn stalks down to create the pathways. This leaves the roots of the corn still in the ground, so a rototiller is used to remove them. The ground for the pathways is then compacted down.
Once the corn reaches about six feet tall, Bruinsma and Taekema use their homemade corn-trimming machine to tidy up the walls of the maze.
The ‘MacGyvered’ machine vertically cuts all of the corn leaves that are hanging out obscuring the paths, just like trimming hedges, says Michelle Klim, marketing rep for the maze.
The machine is one-of-a-kind and built from scratch. It is attached to the front of a tractor and “it’s basically a sideways lawn mower,” says Taekema.
The entire maze-building process takes just under three months to complete. The corn was planted on May 25, then mapped, marked and cut a month later. The walls will be trimmed using the homemade machine just before opening day on Aug. 16.
The Chilliwack Corn Maze is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. It is the first and original corn maze in Chilliwack. Over the years, other mazes have come and gone, but Chilliwack Corn Maze has stayed strong all while giving back to the community.
Each year they pick a different charity to fundraise for and feature in the design of the maze.
This year they’re recognizing nation-wide charity, Raise a Reader, as well as the 140th anniversary of the RCMP.
The 10-acre maze is divided into two sections with two separate logos featured in the maze design. The larger half will honour the RCMP with a Mountie carrying a flag on horseback, and the other half — the children’s maze — has the Raise a Reader logo featuring two happy stick people sharing a book.
This year’s fundraising day for Raise a Reader is Saturday, Sept. 14. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. All proceeds from the corn maze that day will go directly to Raise a Reader.
There is no Raise a Reader program currently in Chilliwack, and the Bruinsmas and Taekemas want to change that. All of the money raised on Sept. 14 will stay in the community and will go towards starting up a Raise a Reader program here in Chilliwack.
“We really believe if we give to the community, it will give back to us,” says Klim.