About three decades ago, the first school group made a trek to the Walker farm in Garner. The students from the Governor Morehead School for the Blind near downtown Raleigh played in the front of the farmhouse and touched and held the pumpkins.
Pretty soon, the farm became a regular fall stop for school field trips from all over. And about 15 years ago, when farmer Ken Walker opened what was one of the state's first corn mazes, it became a destination.
Today, Ken's Korny Corn Maze draws from across the region as folks line up to explore the massive corn maze; jump in the corn and hay barn; check out the animals; run through a rope maze; and spend time on a farm. It's open through Nov. 10.
Walker is a third generation farmer and has been surrounded his entire life by hay, tractors, crops and farm animals. He's still amazed about how much fun people have with things that are just an everyday part of his life. But he loves seeing families have a good time together.
"There's so many people running around happy," said Walker, whose two daughters help out during corn maze season. "I like families to do stuff together."
Walker came up with the idea for a maze after first reading about it in a magazine or newspaper. On a trip to Pennsylvania, he ran across one, bought his ticket and walked through. He returned to Garner and told his father that they should try it.
Walker remembers his dad saying this: "Son, have you lost your ... mind?"
But that didn't stop him from trying. Walker went back to Pennsylvania to talk to the farmer and find out what it took to build a maze. Walker's first corn maze was about four acres. But the work wasn't done once it was built. Walker found that few knew exactly what a corn maze - a maze plowed through a field of corn - was.
"We had to do a lot of educating and advertising," he said.
Not anymore. These days, corn mazes are popping up across the region. For several years, N.C. State University even gave Walker a hand with his maze, using GPS technology to help create it. But, this year, Walker returned to the way he designed the maze that very first year, using grid paper and counting rows of corn. Fall Fun Destination: Ken's Korny Corn Maze
The 2013 Ken's Korny Corn Maze stretches across six acres and includes about 2.5 miles of trails inside it. Sponsored by WRAL, it features the likeness of WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze.
Before visitors enter the maze, they're given a game card. The card sort of guides them through the maze as they look for stations to punch holes in each section of the card. The goal is to spell out "Ken's Corn Maze." It usually takes about 90 minutes to complete the maze. (There are a couple of rest stations and port-a-potties within it. The trails, though sometimes sandy and uneven, are stroller friendly).
Over the years, Walker has added other activities, including a rope maze, swings, barn for jumping in corn and hay, farm animals, pumpkin checkers, play pieces and more. A nighttime haunted event begins Oct. 25, best for ages 12 and up. Corn maze has 'Maze' within a maze
Saturday, Oct. 12, is WRAL Day. Maze will be out there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday. Meteorologist Nate Johnson will be there from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. Also, on WRAL Day, $1 of every ticket to enter the maze will be donated to WRAL's Coats for the Children, benefitting the Salvation Army of Wake County.
For many families, a trip to Ken's Korny Corn Maze has become an annual tradition. They'll even come out more than once, Walker tells me, to see if they can get through the maze a little quicker or win a friendly competition. Walker loves seeing those happy faces.
"I'm a people person," he said. "It's a way I can share what I enjoy to other people."
For more, watch my video interview with Walker and check out this piece by WRAL.
Find Ken's Korny Corn Maze at 3175 Benson Rd., Garner. It's open Monday through Thursday by appointment only for groups. Public hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fridays; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays; and noon to 8 p.m., Sundays.
Go Ask Mom features places to take kids every Friday. For more ideas, check our database of parks and playground reviews and posts on Triangle family destinations. Check our Halloween and Fall Fun Guide for more seasonal activities.