Seven-year-old Tatum Kopfinger moved decisively through the twists and turns of the tiger-shaped corn maze on Sunday, leading her parents and two younger siblings through the labyrinth of 5- to 8-foot-tall corn stalks.
“Just follow me,” she said as she bounded forward with a corn cob in one hand.
Even with the small map she was given by volunteers, Tatum relied on her memory from her first pass through the 3.8-acre maze earlier Sunday morning at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens, until she became turned around near the end and younger sister Libby Kopfinger, 3, excitedly yelled, “We made it” prematurely.
Tatum eventually found her way out with help from her father, Peter Kopfinger.
“They love this,” Tiffany Kopfinger said.
And the Kopfingers were not alone as families arrived in droves to a secluded area of the AgCenter and Rural Life Museum off Essen Lane, just south of Interstate 10, for the Harvest Days festivities to try their hand at the maze, partake in pumpkin painting and get up close to baby farm animals at the petting zoo. Many visitors also took an old-fashioned hayride through a satsuma orchard and a pecan grove.
Children downed corn on the cob and popcorn under a tent outside the maze while other children painted small pumpkins.
The maze was first introduced four years ago as a way to bring families and children to the AgCenter and Rural Life Museum where educational programs are offered. The corn labyrinth has grown in popularity so much so that it drew about 5,000 people last year with most coming the opening weekend, said Michelle Fuller, spokeswoman for the AgCenter.
To build the maze, workers planted insect-resistant corn Aug. 3 and waited about two weeks for it to grow to about 1 foot tall, said Keith Lewis, research associate at the AgCenter.
While it was growing, Lewis and others searched for a tiger-shaped maze design on the Internet, he said. Once organizers found one, they plotted more than 630 points on a GPS system to create the tiger’s shape.
When the corn reached 1 foot, Lewis walked through the field with the GPS chart while worker Madison Banta followed on a riding lawn mower, knocking down the stalks to create the 5-foot-wide walking paths, Lewis said. It took days to build the maze. Banta will have to trim the paths every few days on the mower to keep them neat.
The maze was designed to be easy for children to navigate. Many of them climbed a 12-foot hay mountain in the center, which allowed them to get almost a bird’s-eye view of the paths. The maze has some dead ends, but the main path is easy to find and takes about 20-30 minutes to get through, Lewis said.
During the first two years, the maze was kept at 1.5 acres, but in the second year, it was stretched to 2.5 acres. This year, it was expanded to 3.8 acres, Lewis said, which is probably the maximum space available for it.
Families, some of whom were in their Sunday best like the Vidrine family, of Gonzales, gathered at the AgCenter to enjoy the cool weather.
Angel Vidrine said she saw signs for the corn maze on her way to work as a registered nurse at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center recently and thought it would be a good outing for the family.
She and her husband, Chris Vidrine, said they like to get their children — Haden, 11, Lily, 6 and Dawson, 1 — involved in outside activities and were intrigued by the corn maze.
“They had a blast,” Angel Vidrine said after the family made it through. “They were running around everywhere. We had to find them.”
At the Red Barn Farm Tour petting zoo, children flocked to the baby rabbits and ducks huddled in red, open crates outside the mobile barn along with pigeons, chickens and other farm animals inside the barn.
The outside crates with the baby rabbits were so inviting that 10-month-old Gabriel Orth just crawled into one of the crates.
Leah Orth said her son loves animals so much that when they heard about the petting zoo, they knew they had to come. The corn maze and other activities were lagniappe.
“This is a nice place,” she said. “It’s almost like being in the wilderness in the city.”
The maze will be open Oct. 4, 11 and 18 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and on Oct. 25, there will be a large bonfire complete with s’mores and nighttime wandering through the maze from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Entry fee is $5 except for those 3 and under, who will be admitted free.
The maze will be open on the four Saturdays in October, but the other events were available only Saturday and Sunday.
Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter, @ryanmbroussard.