Mike and Dayna Boudreau have day jobs as Physical Therapy Assistants, but in the fall they become puzzle masters. The Boudreaus’ puzzle is a little different than most; it’s made of corn. The first year they built the maze, it was only five acres, but drew more than a thousand people. Mike Boudreau realized he was on to something. Seventeen years later, the now 10-acre Great Vermont Corn Maze attracts 6,000 people annually.
Boudreau spends his winters plotting the theme for the maze (last year was dinosaurs). The couple plants at the end of May, and in June they take out a tape measure and start cutting the corn. Later, they rototill the ground and rake it smooth and then put up bridges, doors, exits and other attractions. The maze includes punch poles where visitors can punch a card and determine if they’re moving forward or retracing their steps. Once they’ve completed the maze, they can compare the order of their punches to the route on the map. As the season progresses, Boudreau swaps out the punches so those who have already been to the maze can’t give advice to later visitors.
Bridges spanning the maze are the perfect place for Boudreau and his son to stand to figure out who needs help and who doesn’t. Some people are at their wits’ end and want clues while others insist on figuring things out by themselves. The maze includes a shorter, scenic version of the course which crisscrosses it and allows visitors to see some of the main attractions like a beached 28-foot cabin cruiser, but keeps them on track without getting lost.
Visitors come from all over the world, including Europe and South America. Some are couples who come to the maze year after year, including those who have been divorced and now arrive on separate days, Boudreau said.
For children, there are several attractions including a petting zoo, a kid village, barnyard golf and a hide-and-seek forest. The maze has a strict prohibition on drinking and smoking to ensure that it’s family-friendly and the children’s attractions are decidedly low-key with no electronics. “Families recharge and reconnect,” Boudreau said. “Some of them spend six to eight hours on the property.”
Last summer Kelsey Harrington of North Pomfret, then 19, visited the maze with her father and boyfriend, spending roughly two and a half hours amid the corn. “It was fun because it required some effort,” she said. “Even with three of us, it took a while.” Harrington found the punch poles useful. “You could tell whether you were making progress or going in circles,” she said. “I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a good challenge.”
Opening day was Aug. 1, when the corn is typically 12 feet tall. Most people arrive later in the season, but Boudreau would like more visitors to take advantage of the early days when the corn is still green. August is also when the “hard-core mazers” as Boudreau describes them, come to visit. “I can’t give a clue away to those people,” he said. “I just stand on the bridge and socialize. The hard-core mazers don’t want to get out in less than one and a half hours. If they do it in less time they’re glad they beat me but they’re also upset because their time in the maze was so short.”
There are days Boudreau thinks about quitting the maze gig, but the thought doesn’t last long, he said. He knows he has a loyal band of followers, as well as newcomers just discovering the joys of getting lost. “We’ve seen so many visitors year after year, and now we’re seeing their children bringing their children,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of work, but it’s also a tremendous amount of fun.”
Great Vermont Corn Maze: 1410 Wheelock Road, Danville, 802-748-1399, www.vermontcornmaze.com.