By Karen Mcgeorge Sanders
Searching for the way out of a cornfield labyrinth provides Cub Scouts with a fun and challenging autumn learning experience.
"Get lost" is a term that Cub Scouts in Pack 246, Portland, Ore., take seriously, as in seriously fun. Every fall the pack visits a local corn maze, getting lost on the twisting paths that weave between the acres of towering green stalks and using their knowledge of Cub Scouting to escape the labyrinth.
It's an a-mazing time.
Fun and educational
Corn mazes are seasonal "agritainment" programs run on farms in about 40 states (see sidebar). Cut through tightly packed rows of towering cornstalks, some paths lead to the exit while others are dead ends or loop back into the maze's interior.
A maze is a fun fall activity for Cub Scouts and families. And because some locations base their design (and offer related activities) on a specific theme, a visit can be a learning experience as well as a fun challenge.
A Missouri maze, for example, is designed like a cowboy on a bucking bronco and offers activities with a Western theme. To help visitors learn more about local Native Americans, a maze in east Tennessee offers puzzles and games related to the Cherokee way of life.
A maze and more
The visit to the Corn Maze at the Pumpkin Patch on Oregon's Sauvie Island is Pack 246's fall kickoff event. The five-acre maze was cut into the shape of a blue heron among cattails this year. Nearly three miles of pathways are divided into two phases, each requiring about 20 minutes to complete.
To navigate the labyrinth, visitors must locate numbered signposts and answer a multiple-choice question at each post. In exchange for a correct answer, they learn which direction to proceed. (For the pack's visit, the leaders prepared special questions about Scouting. The maze provides "Scouting passports" among other types of trivia found throughout the maze.)
After exiting the maze, Pumpkin Patch visitors can enjoy the barn's hay maze, take tractor hay rides to pick out pumpkins for Halloween, visit the farm-animal petting zoo, or buy farm fresh food products and crafts at the gift stores.
The Cub Scouts gather at the maze entrance. Excited shouts ("I want to be with Brandon!") are quieted once Cubmaster John Pedisich and assistant Cubmaster Carol Ward arrive. They divide the pack into teams of two adults and at least one boy from each age group: Tiger Cubs, Wolf Cub Scouts, Bear Cub Scouts, and Webelos Scouts.
"Dividing the Cub Scouts into diverse age groups helps the boys to get to know other pack members," Ward says. "Plus, the older Scouts can help read the questions for the younger boys, allowing everyone to participate."
Right answers, correct turns
The teams are sent off at staggered intervals, and soon the entire pack is bounding through the maze. Darting over straw-strewn paths, among the rows of rustling stalks, the teams look for numbered signposts.
Questions range from "How old does a boy have to be to be a Boy Scout?" to "What is the Arrow of Light?" And the Cub Scouts almost always answer correctly, thanks to some special preparation.
"The leaders put out the questions at our pack meeting last night, so I went home afterward and looked up all the answers," explains Webelos Scout Linus Niedermeyer.
And diving into their handbooks was exactly what assistant Cubmaster Ward hoped would be encouraged by the questions she wrote. (They were designed "to help the boys understand more about Cub Scouts and teach them about Scouting," she says.)
Inside the mazea confusing forest of cornstalks 8 to 12 feet highthe Cub Scouts realize how important it is to know the right answers. They are especially awed by the towering corn tops, and no one argues when Wolf Cub Scout James O'Brien exclaims: "This corn must be 32,000 feet high!"
'We never got lost!'
Nevertheless, everyone avoids claustrophobia, and within an hour all Cub Scouts are out of the maze and enjoying a snack. "We never got lost!" boasts Bear Cub Scout T. J. Wehrley.
T. J.'s attitude is typical, observes Craig Easterly, manager of the Pumpkin Patch maze. "People feel victorious when they conquer the maze," he explains. "And inside, the 'corn cops' provide directions so no one ever stays 'lost' for long."
Some dens leave after consuming their snack, while others visit the hay maze and the farm animal petting zoo. Other individuals, like Webelos Scout Will Ramis, whose need to use a wheelchair didn't keep him away, take time to reflect.
"This year was better than last," Will observes. "Last year I brought my walker, and this time I brought my wheelchair so I could go faster. I can hardly wait until next year."
This is the kind of enthusiasm that Cubmaster John Pedisich had in mind when the pack chose the corn maze for its kickoff event.
"This is a great beginning-of-the-year event," he says. "Everybody has fun, and it really gets boys excited about having signed up for Cub Scouts. We end up with 70 percent of the boys in grades one through five from our school in Scouting."
"The corn maze is just the type of event we look for as a recruiting tool," Carol Ward adds. "It catches the boys' attention and teaches them a little about Scouting, too."
Freelance writer Karen McGeorge Sanders lives in Snohomish, Wash.
Copyright © 2002 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.