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Published: Thursday, 9/18/2008

Fall s amazing mazes throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan

Elaborate mazes can turn a cornfield into a pathway to discovery. Elaborate mazes can turn a cornfield into a pathway to discovery.
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Five bucks will get you into the 15-acre cornfield maze.

But the civics lesson is on the house.

The presidential race was the inspiration for the premier autumn attraction at the Country Lane Tree Farm in Genoa, with a maze that spells Obama vs. McCain above the shapes of a donkey and elephant. Anyone who completes the maze and proves it with a card punched at all eight educational stations on the path may cast a mock presidential ballot.

We have a lot of school-age children that come through here and I want them to know the election process is important, owner Melissa Bowlander said of the farm she runs with her husband.

As area farms capitalize on agri-tourism, traditional fall corn mazes have evolved from simple angular paths to elaborate aerial pictures that lure families with an educational slant or a celebrity nod.

Many mazes are so intricate that farmers now rely on global mapping software to carve the designs into the cornfields.

The Bowlander s election-theme maze was designed with a paper and pencil, but they used a global-positioning device to cut the design into their then waist-high cornfield.

One corn maze in Napoleon, Ohio featuring hometown hero NASCAR driver Sam Hornish, Jr. was designed by the Utah-based corporation, The MAiZE, and cut into a seven-acre cornfield by his neighbors.

The driver hasn t yet visited the likeness of his race car at Leaders Fun*Time Farm, owner Evie Leaders said.

The same corporation designed the Harry Potter look-alike wizard for Farmer Charley s Maze Adventures 10-acre corn maze in Monroe.

Professional help with the corn mazes allow the attraction managers to focus on what really matters, which is serving families, Farmer Charley s owner Marge Helwig said.

We want families to come out here and spend quality time, because families don t do that anymore, she said.

President Abraham Lincoln was carved into the Kernel Coopers Corn Maze of Van Wert with some corporate help. The Idaho-based agri-entertainment firm MazePlay created and cut the Happy Birthday Abe Lincoln design using GPS.

Inside the maze are 12 stations, each with a map of the visitor s location and presidential trivia, in honor of what would have been Honest Abe s 200th birthday in February.

The new maze sticks with the Cooper s affinity for the Americana. Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, eagles and a pioneer-style stage coach were previously featured.

It seems to work.

The maze boasted about 3,000 visitors last year, owner Rod Cooper said.

But Mr. Cooper said he hopes the combination of late season rain and a taller variety of corn puts attendance over the top.

It s a lot more challenging with the corn being taller, because you can t see landmarks, Mr. Cooper said, adding that the maze took his savvy 9-year-old son longer than usual to navigate. They were out there probably a good hour. My wife was getting worried. But we haven t lost anybody in the maze yet.

Contact Bridget Tharp at: btharp@theblade.com or 419-724-6061.

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