The Risser-Marvel Farm Market corn maze will open for the season this week.
Through October, the corn maze (2425 Horseshoe Pike, Annville) will be open Monday through Thursday, 3-7 p.m.; Friday, 3-9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Last admission is one hour before closing. Hours are based on conditions, so check in advance if you’re heading out.
These hours differ from the farm market’s, are based on previous years’ attendance, and allow large groups and schools to visit the corn maze during weekday mornings.
Admission is free for those 3 and under and $10 for those 4 and older. Pets are not permitted.
Lebanon County-native married couple Tina and Greg Forry have been business partners since 1991. They have owned and operated the Risser-Marvel Farm Market since 2007 and have offered the corn maze since 2008.
“My husband always had this in the back of his mind,” Tina Forry said. “Lebanon Valley College did … a dinosaur-shaped corn maze, like late ’90s/early 2000s. And we went with Greg’s sister and her husband. And we divided into couples, guys against girls. And I never dreamed we’d actually have our own someday.”
Tina shared with LebTown how the business’s corn maze is designed and brought to life.
“We actually found a wonderful company to work with called Maize Quest out of New Park, York County. We had contacted other maze companies at the time. But they actually came out and visited us,” Forry said.
“And now, we feel like part of their family. When we get together with people that use Maize Quest, it feels like a big family reunion.”
Although corn mazes and related services like Maize Quest existed at the time, Forry said many people in Lebanon County were not familiar with corn mazes and what they entailed.
Some people believed there was a sidewalk in the maze, while others believed the hay ride drove through it.
To this day, Forry said some people call about the corn maze during the off-season, not realizing it is “a living thing that has a lifespan.”
The Risser-Marvel Farm Market staff start brainstorming themes months before submitting their final one to Maize Quest by the end of January.
Some years, they have too many ideas to choose just one. And other years, they struggle to come up with one.
Their submission to Maize Quest includes the dimensions of the corn maze. It is considered a mini-maze at about two-and-a-half acres, with an estimated completion time of 45 minutes to an hour.
“We want to be family-oriented,” Forry said. “So, we don’t want the maze to be too hard. We have other activities here. We don’t want people to spend the whole day in the corn maze.”
Other fall activities at the farm market include pick-your-own pumpkins, hay rides, campfires, human pool (played by kicking balls around), grain bin basketball, trike track, corn hole, giant checkers and connect four, a corn box to play in, and straw bales and tires to climb.
The location of the bridge is also included in their submission. The presence of the wooden bridge increases the maze’s difficulty with paths over and under the bridge rather than just left and right turns.
“And a lot of times, the exit path will take you under the bridge,” Forry said. “We’ve also tried to adapt it that way if people want to go through with a wheelchair that they don’t have to go over it.”
A Maize Quest staff member, who is a published author of puzzle books, creates the design. Pictures of the design are sent to the Forrys for approval.
Once the design is approved, the Forrys hire a neighboring farmer to plant the corn later so it stays green for as long as possible into the season.
Their neighbor often buys the corn from them at the end of the season, so they let him pick the type of corn to plant.
“We have sweet corn planters. And sweet corn is not planted as close together as field corn,” Forry said. “And I think we have him plant north to south and then go across and do east to west or something to create thicker walls for the maze.”
When the corn is about six inches tall, a Maize Quest contractor on a tractor with a mower carves the paths using a GPS and adjusts the bridge as needed.
“The nice thing about GPS [is] if he gets rained out and has to come another time in the middle of the night, he has the GPS to guide him,” Forry said. “With rain and other things, there were like three years in a row where he came in the middle of the night. We never really even saw him because he was here and gone.”
Forry said they know of a corn maze in New Jersey that is at least twice the size of theirs that plants the corn and then pulls the stalks out by hand. “I think if we tried that, we’d have mutiny with our family,” she said.
A week or so before the corn maze opens, the Risser-Marvel Farm Market staff tear off corn stalks sticking out in the paths and freshly mow the paths.
One lesson they learned the hard way was in 2011 when Tropical Storm Lee struck the area. Since they used to rototill the paths, the ground acted “like a sponge.”
“At the end of the season, we had 100 pallets in the maze,” Forry said. “So, we had a corn maze/boardwalk, I guess.”
They stopped rototilling and decreased the size of the corn maze a bit and moved it away from the waterway leading to their pond.
The game stations are now made largely of plexiglass and vinyl and staked into the ground. And if it is calling for particularly severe weather, they use a wagon to move everything inside.
About a week before opening, they will also string three different colors of ribbon in the maze to mark the area near the entrance, in the middle, and near the exit.
This year, yellow ribbon is strung near the entrance of the corn maze, and green ribbon is strung near the exit.
Forry said they tracked the number of corn maze participants when Maize Quest charged them a customer-based fee for using their services.
Since that has changed, they have not kept track but are happy with the numbers and see new and repeat customers.
The corn maze attracts people from Lebanon County and nearby ones, including Berks, Dauphin, and Schuylkill.
Forry said it costs several thousand dollars to operate the corn maze each year with the cost of the Maize Quest membership, the neighboring farmer and Maize Quest contractor’s services, and the labor and materials associated with the themed signage, decorations, and activities.
This year’s corn maze is Sherlock Holmes-themed, with the bridge in a new location. Forry said every person or group that participates will receive a game sheet and a crayon.
At the game stations, participants will do crayon rubbings of Sherlock Holmes-related objects. Participants will also need to fill in the blanks for facts about Sherlock Holmes.
“We actually hid a map on the back of the game sheet,” Forry said. “But you need to find the maze of vision station and slide the map behind the red lens. And the maze will appear. And hopefully, you can use that to get your way out of the maze.”
Goodie bags for school children will include magnifying glasses and Risser-Marvel Farm Market promotional materials to encourage them to return with their families.
Previous themes for the corn maze were dinosaurs, jack-o-lanterns, deep sea adventure, rain forest, wild west, and Robin Hood.
When asked for tips for corn maze first-timers, Forry said, “Strollers are welcome. Wear comfortable shoes. Just dress appropriately for the weather. And come on out and get lost. It’s the only job you have where it’s polite to tell people to get lost.”
On the weekend, staff monitors the corn maze to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere.
They also try to keep track of how long participants are in the maze and will ask if they need help finding their way to the exit. They used to give participants flags to wave before planting taller corn, making it too difficult to see them.
Forry said the business gets its fair share of prank calls: “I think it was last year or the year before. People called us that they were lost in the maze. And they’d been lost in there for an hour. And they wanted us to come and get them. And I was honest, I said, you know, that can’t be possible. They harvested the maze last Thursday. And they hung up on me.”
“If you want to prank call somebody, you should at least get your details right and make sure the corn is still standing.”
To avoid getting lost before you arrive, the Risser-Marvel Farm Market is located at 2425 Horseshoe Pike in Annville.
You can park in the farm market parking lot or in the grassy area behind the parking lot. Forry said they use the grassy area as a field for most of the year and then mow it for use as auxiliary parking in the fall.
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