Murrysville farmer gears up for annual themed corn maze |

Murrysville farmer gears up for annual themed corn maze

Patrick Varine
Patrick Varine | Tribune-Review Herb Gearhard of Murrysville looks over the graph-paper map of his 2017 corn maze.

Herb Gearhard of Murrysville may use a drone nowadays to get a top-down look at his annual corn maze, but in nearly all other aspects, he’s old-school.

“We don’t use GPS,” he said, pulling out a large sheet of taped-together graph paper. “We start with a sheet of paper and just sort of doodle.”

Gearhard Farms — a bicentennial farm that is marking its 250th anniversary this year and has been in Gearhard’s family since 1769 — creates a new corn maze every year. Gearhard’s daughter-in-law, Cassie, has come up with the design for the past three years, and his son, Mike, cuts the connecting paths in the field.

To make the design a reality, Gearhard first sows the maze field with corn in an east-west direction, then again in a north-south direction.

That creates a literal grid of corn he can then match up with the graph-paper design. He marks each turn in the path with a flag and a number, then working with his family, he cuts from flag to flag, slowly creating the design.

“It takes about six hours to design the maze, another six hours to put the flags in the field, and probably about 50 hours total to cut the whole thing,” Gearhard said.

Designs in years past have ranged from the solar system (2018) to the Pennsylvania flag’s coat of arms (2017) to a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America (2010).

Each year’s design is kept secret, however.

“We’ll have paper and pencils for people and we tell them, ‘Try and map the maze as you’re walking through,” Gearhard said. “We have people who come back every year. They bring a backpack and a bottle of water, spend an hour and come back very proud with their guess. There’s a lot of people who’ve nailed it over the years.”

No matter what the theme is, the design always includes a “G” and an “F” to represent Gearhard Farms.

This year is both the 20th anniversary of the maze and the 250th anniversary of the farm. Gearhard said the process has come a long way since it started in 1999.

“For the first 16 years when we didn’t have drones, I would fly over the maze with my neighbor who’s a pilot,” Gearhard said. “That very first year, we were flying over and I realized there was a whole area of the maze I’d forgotten to cut.”

The maze will open on Labor Day weekend.

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Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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