Traverse City Record-Eagle


August 23, 2008

Northern People: TC native makes maize maze

Computer-aided drafting helps design farmyard puzzle

TRAVERSE CITY -- From the air, Jacob's Corn Maze would be hard to miss: a giant maze puzzle with a barnyard theme, spread out over 10 acres.

Located on a centennial farm 31/2 miles west of Traverse City, the maze was expected to open Saturday for the fall and just may be the largest of its kind in northern Michigan. It's the brainchild of fourth-generation Traverse City native Mike Witkop, who grew up on the one-time dairy farm, and his wife Laverna, who milked cows after school on her own family's farm near Interlochen.

Named after Witkop's great-grandfather, who acquired the farm in 1892, the maze is actually three unconnected mazes that form the shapes of a barn, a spotted cow and the name "Jacob's." Together they contain more than 41/2 miles of trails.

"It's very detailed," said Witkop, who bought the farm across from Gallagher's Farm Market from his mother in 1994. "I would say it would be 45 minutes to an hour to do both mazes" -- not counting the shortest one designed especially for children.

The maze is located on a parcel of land owned by the Witkops but planted and harvested by a neighboring farmer. It was designed and cut by MazePlay, an Idaho company that has built between 500 and 1,000 mazes across the U.S. and Canada. Designs range from traditional fall scenes to alien abduction, pirate ship and jungle themes.

Designed with computer-aided drafting or "CAD" software, the maze was cut when the densely planted corn was about six inches tall using a small tractor pulling a garden tiller, and a global positioning system, said MazePlay owner Shawn Stolworthy. Now the maze "walls" are about 7 or 8 feet high, providing an added challenge.

"Over the past week I've walked every square inch," said Steve Fouch, who helped select the maze design and pull weeds in preparation for its opening. "You're not just going to walk in there and walk back out. You're going to have to keep track of where you are." The maze also was tested by fellow members of Faith Reformed Church, Laverna Witkop said.

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