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A feat for the century

Local pumpkin patch sends the community a 5-acre birthday card
This corn maze at the Colony Pumpkin Patch in North Liberty is a replica of the city’s centennial logo. The corn maze will be ready for visitors when the patch opens Saturday, Sept. 28. (Aerial photograph by Roger Schultz)

NORTH LIBERTY– At Colony Pumpkin Patch in North Liberty, you can walk through an entire century.
The Colony farm at 2780 Front St. has been turned into a seasonal attraction for several years now, with a pick-out-your-own pumpkin patch started by the Dean and Katie Colony family in 2005. Last year, the Colonys added a weekend fall festival and corn maze to the fun.
This year, in honor of the community’s 100th birthday, the Colonys went the extra mile on the five-acre swatch of corn, and had the maze designed to replicate North Liberty’s Centennial Celebration logo.
From the ground, it’s a twisting, turning series of paths that lead through wide curves and sharp right angles, and occasionally to an abrupt dead-end or consternating loop-de-loop that requires a maze walker to re-route through the tall stalks of corn.
From the air, the plot clearly and proudly reads “North Liberty 1913-2013. Celebrate the Century.”
“We wanted this to be our contribution to the community celebration,” said Katie Colony.
Last year’s maze was a design of random curves created by the Colonys themselves. Throughout the maze, they added signs with farm-related words and factoids, creating an agriculture-based scavenger hunt that, when completed, earned maze visitors a chance at winning gift certificates donated by local businesses.
“Last year, we used a picture from Google Earth and drew our own pattern. Then we had to come out and flag it every few feet,” with help from Colony kids Megan, Ali and Eric, said Katie. “The kids were following me through the field like ducklings, planting flags through the whole thing.”
This year, the Colonys hired a professional maze designer; yes, they exist, although the field is somewhat limited, with an estimated count of just five established maze design companies in the U.S. Corn mazes are growing in popularity as a piece of rural Americana, with approximately 800 mazes available to the public.
The Colonys turned to Corn Mazes America of Wisconsin for help. Katie sent a graphic of North Liberty’s Centennial logo to Corn Mazes America’s founder Scott Skelly, who plugged the graphic into his specialized software that translates it into a pattern with GPS coordinates. Skelly and his wife then loaded up their laptop computers and mowing equipment and road-tripped to Iowa in early June to cut the design into the corn.
“It turned out amazing,” Katie said, ignoring the pun.
In order to capture its monumental significance, though, it has to be viewed from above. Local photographer Roger Schultz used a radio-controlled “hexacopter with a fancy computer on it,” Schultz said, to take aerial photos of the maze. Schultz’s hexacopter is a sophisticated flying apparatus, complete with its own GPS, barometer and stabilization equipment designed to hold digital cameras steady while taking photographs and video mid-air. Schultz is a member of the radio-control flying club Iowa City Aerohawks, and demonstrations of similar equipment will be offered at the Aerohawks Air Show in Iowa City Sept. 8.
His aerial photos of Colonys’ Centennial logo corn maze can be found on the Colony Pumpkin Patch Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ColonyPumpkinPatchNL, and also on the city’s Centennial website at northliberty100.org.
Katie said she hopes to engage the North Liberty Centennial committee in planning another corn maze learning experience similar to last year’s scavenger hunt, one that educates visitors on the rich farming history of the community. Staying true to the Centennial committee’s intention of connecting North Liberty’s century-old past with its 21st century panache, high-tech methods are being considered for that educational component.
“We might be able to do it through a Smartphone app, or a QR code; there are a lot of different options,” Katie said. Corn Mazes America has the capability of turning a Smartphone into a virtual trivia punch card, for example, or creating a customized corn maze GPS locator right on a visitor’s phone.
It just goes to prove that growing corn has come a long way in the last 100 years, and the Colony’s corn maze has ripened into a more refined challenge for maze enthusiasts in just one season.
“Compared to last year’s maze, this one is way more complex. Yes, there are a lot of dead-ends, and there are ways to get lost in there, but we hope to have a large picture of the maze at the beginning, and people can choose to take a map into the maze with them if they want. I have to take a map with me when I mow it to maintain it,” Katie laughed.
It is important to the Colony family that North Liberty newcomers are reminded of North Liberty’s birth as a farming community, both through the corn maze and their upcoming Colony Pumpkin Patch Fall Festival, scheduled for Oct. 5.
“North Liberty grew up as an ag town,” said Dean. “So why not make it an agricultural fest? We have some people bringing in antique tractors and equipment, and someone who is bringing kids’ hands-on farm activities.” In addition, various vendors will be on hand at the festival offering more food and fun, the Colonys will once again fill a corn crib pit, where kids love to play in mounds of shelled corn, and Dean will give youngsters mini-farm tours in the new, well-engineered barrel train.
And of course, there will be pumpkins. Five acres of pumpkins, in fact, which visitors can pick by hand from the patch or pluck from a colorful display of already-harvested gourds out front. The Colonys try to add something new to the pumpkin patch experience each year, and hope to attract visitors of all ages for years to come.
If all goes as planned, perhaps a future corn maze at Colony Pumpkin Patch will be designed after the city’s bicentennial logo.
Meanwhile, the Colony’s corn maze experience 2013 invites everyone to get lost in this century.
“We are just really excited about it,” Katie said. “You can finally see it, and people have already been giving us good feedback. So far, they think it’s pretty cool.”