September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Shafer Corn Maze - owned and operated by the Dana and Larry Miron family - has been providing scary entertainment and Halloween fun since 2006.
You could say the event has become a family spookfair, for both the Mirons and the many who visit.
"It's addicting," Dana said, grinning.
The Mirons milk 50 cows and raise a small herd of beef on their 300-acre dairy farm near Shafer, Minn., in Chisago County. They have four children: Josh (24) is back on the farm full time and owns a few of the cows; Justin (22) is a national park ranger and is finishing college; Elliott (18) is a senior in high school, and Tiffany (8) is in second grade.
Historically, the Mirons never got too much into the Halloween spirit. Before their first maze in 2006, they had never even visited a corn maze.
So how did the idea of doing their own corn maze ever come about?
"In 2006, the milk prices were bad and I was looking for something else I could do to make a little money on the side," Dana said.
She had been working part time but with running a dairy farm and raising a family, things weren't panning out. They began searching other options and came across corn mazes online.
"The idea came up and we said, 'Why can't we do that?'" Dana said. "It was something we could do as a family that was farm related, and we could share a little of the farm with city folks."
That was in January 2006 and work started immediately.
The Mirons' first hurdle in putting together their corn maze was something unexpected.
"We found out we had to get a conditional use permit," Dana said. "I didn't realize we would have to do that."
As they migrated through the red tape that goes with obtaining permits, the family began searching for companies to design their maze. While some people design and cut their own mazes, the Mirons opted to hire a company to come out and do that work for them. They chose Mazeplay, based out of Idaho, for the designs and other options they provided.
The next step was designating a field to use for the maze. They originally planned to put it on their own farm, but Dana's mother offered a 12-acre field on her farm just south of Highway 8 in Shafer. Although it was a few miles from the dairy, the Mirons took her offer for the better location.
When it came to planting time, things were also done a little differently. The Mirons cross plant the corn that will be used for the maze at half population. They spray with a pre-emergent herbicide because they are not able to get back in the field to spray once the corn comes up. By June, the corn is ready to cut.
That first year, the Mirons chose a moose design for the maze. Mazeplay came in June, when the corn was 5-6 inches tall, and rototilled the paths. After that, it was up to the Mirons to maintain, which included hand hoeing the miles of maze to keep the paths clear.
"Corn likes to come back. I didn't realize that," Dana said.
All their work was met with success. In 2006, over 3,000 people attended Shafer Corn Maze, and it has grown every year since. Last year, they hosted over 7,500 visitors.
Since 2006, their maze designs have ranged from Minnesota wildlife scenes to the Headless Horseman. This year's design - 'The Dragon's Lair' - boasts a dragon threatening a medieval castle.
"We pick the design in the winter. It's a family argument," Dana said, laughing.
They've learned a few tricks of the trade over the last five years - some the hard way. Wildlife has wreaked havoc on the maze, adding more work for the Mirons.
"The first year, I went out to the back corner [of the maze] and couldn't even see the path [because coons had knocked down all the corn]," Dana said. "I just about cried."
They now put up electric fencing around the maze perimeter, which has aided in the coon problem but Mother Nature tends to not obey the laws of man.
Some years the corn didn't come up well or was drowned out. Last year, 60-mile-per-hour winds knocked the corn down. Two years ago, they had snow the first week in October.
"The weather's always a gamble with anything in farming," Dana said. "You can't just throw it (the maze) up and leave it."
To keep things interesting, the Mirons try to do something different each year. Since the beginning, they have had a petting zoo and other games available to entertain the whole family, including straw and rope mazes and pony hop races. In 2007 they tried a haunted maze, which was met with huge success; last year, they added the Farm Scene Investigation (FSI) game to the mazes, and this year the Farm Scene Tracks game for the younger crowd.
"People seem to really like that," Dana said of FSI. "It (the maze) has gotten bigger and more fun every year."
While some were apprehensive to get involved at first, the whole Miron family now takes part in the annual event, helping with everything from design decisions to set up to scaring.
"I milk cows and then quick run up here and scare people," Josh said.
Much of the prop work is done in the winter by Dana herself, which has included making the entrance to the haunted maze and several of the 7-foot ghouls that guard the paths. Maze set-up and maintenance is done between farmwork.
"It gets really hectic ... and fall hunting has really taken a downturn," Larry said of the work involved in the corn maze. "It can be kind of trying at times."
With the maze open to the public on weekends - and open to larger groups during the week - they do as much field and farmwork as possible during the week. After the final weekend, the props are taken down and stored until next year and the corn is combined, "Very, very slowly," said Dana, because of the crossplanting.
While it is a lot of work, the corn maze has accomplished the Mirons' original goal of adding income to their farm, Dana said. They don't plan to discontinue their newfound Halloween hobby anytime soon.
"Because people have fun," Dana said. "People come and say they are really glad we do this."
This year, Shafer Corn Maze will be open weekends through Oct. 30. For more information, directions and prices, visit www.shafercornmaze.com.
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