Getting Lost in the Corn

By Beacon Staff

It’s a crisp autumn morning at the Fritz Corn Maze on Birch Grove Road, early enough in the day that frost still clings to any surface the sun hasn’t yet touched.

Cold wind is rustling through the golden corn stalks, but it is not impeding the preschoolers from Give Them Wings Preschool, who are climbing a stack of hay bales to slide down plastic culverts.

This is only the start to their literal field trip. After the sliding, the group embarks on a scavenger hunt in the 10-acre maze, followed by a ride on the Cow Train, which consists of several barrels on wheels painted as cows and pulled by a four-wheeler.

All in all, it’s pretty basic fun, but that’s what brings people here, according to Heidi and Chris Fritz. They’ve been running this corn maze for six years, and it keeps getting bigger, Heidi said as she watched the kids on the slide.

“It’s for families,” Heidi said. “It’s a safe, friendly place to go.”

The couple began carving mazes into their cornfield as a way to bring in some extra income. During the rest of the year, the Fritzes are busy seeding, calving, harvesting, haying and keeping an eye on their cattle herd.

But in the fall, the corn maze gives them a break from the typical farm and ranch activities, and brings the community out to the field. While some of their farm-owning friends are dubious of paying to essentially wander around a field, Heidi and Chris think their more-urban clientele are drawn to the outdoor experience.

“I think people are getting disconnected from the farm,” Heidi said.

With five years of maze experience under their belts, the Fritzes are trying to keep the experience fresh for their customers. The maze is different, Chris said, and larger than it has been in the past, now sitting at 10 acres.

Maya Graham, right, leads classmates and parents out of the Fritz Corn Maze. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

The site now also includes a bean-bag toss with cut-outs of a pumpkin, a ghost, a bulls eye and a cow to aim at, as well as a ring toss and a bouncing ball game that seems to be gaining popularity, Heidi said.

The Fritzes have also added some picnic tables so visitors can have lunch or host birthday parties. There is a mini-maze made of hay bales as well, and a stack of hay to climb.

The corn maze opened in the second week of September, and has been “pretty busy,” Heidi said.

Chris cut the maze pattern this year, with the challenge of making sure the intersections resemble one another to give the wanderer a real chance at getting lost. Their 4-year-old son, Lance, helped out by making sure the culvert slides were just right, Chris said.

The corn maze becomes the Haunted Trail on Oct. 26, 27 and Halloween. This means thrill seekers travel a path through the complex, with only glowsticks to light their way, and encounter creepy and spooky residents within the maze. These characters include a gorilla, a chainsaw-wielding madman, a zombie and multiple ghouls.

Chris, who gets a mischievous look on his face when discussing the haunted evenings, said they are looking to add some new, scary additions this year, including a bloody doctor.

Patrons can also try their hand at defeating the maze in the dark on Oct. 18. While the haunted trail is a pre-determined path, the Oct. 18 event opens the whole maze in the dark. Those who try it out can use any sort of flashlight they want, the Fritzes said.

Alexi Yarde, left, uses a stamp to mark off the ghost on Makenzie Westphal’s, right, and Danika White’s yellow tickets while on a scavenger hunt. Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

Otherwise, the maze is open on weekends, Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. It costs $5 per person for those 5 and up; kids 4 and under are free. Group rates are also available.

As the preschoolers filter out of the maze’s exit with whoops of accomplishment, Heidi can’t help but enjoy their exuberance.

“I like to see people smile,” she says.

The Fritz Corn Maze is located on Birch Road East off of U.S. Highway 2, about a mile south of the Glacier Park International Airport.