DRIVE THROUGH western Howard County this time of year and you'll pass acres of cornfields. Row after row, field after field, slim stalks with pointed leaves are turning from green to brown.
One field in Glenwood holds a surprise: A-maize-ing Place, the third annual corn maze of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.
The 7-acre field contains a network of winding passages and blind alleys. There is only one right way out of the 1 3/4-miles of pathways. If you're skilled enough not to take any wrong turns, the route is three-quarters of a mile.
"It's great family fun," says Barbara Lett, special events coordinator for the Department of Recreation and Parks.
Last year, more than 4,000 people visited the maze. Most found their way out -- some with the aid of a map that is available for the asking -- but others needed help.
"It's like being inside a puzzle," Lett said. "It's like watching a video game, but you're in it."
Provisions are made so explorers don't get hopelessly lost, Lett says. Each group entering the maze is given a signal pole to raise for help. On scaffolding in the middle of the field is the maze master, who watches for raised poles and will signal an assistant on the ground near the lost party. The assistant can point them in the right direction or lead them out.
The idea for the corn maze was born a few years ago when Dan McNamara saw a similar maze in Pennsylvania. McNamara, natural resources operations manager for the Department of Recreation and Parks, thought it would be a great thing to do in Howard County.
The Department of Recreation and Parks began work on this year's maze in the spring. Engineering support technician Ed Bromley created the layout with a computer-aided-design system.
Armed with Bromley's design, McNamara -- along with Don Allen, Charlie Peregoy and Brian Paulsen -- went out to the field in June, when the corn was a foot or two high.
They measured and marked off all the passages, using some known points, such as a tree and the field's perimeter, to measure from. Then they cut down the corn plants on the pathways.
For the past two years, McNamara's team had built the maze after the corn had been harvested. This meant that they had to knock down full-size cornstalks to clear the passages.
This year, they decided to use a different approach, and it worked well.
A maintenance team headed by Art Downing visited the site over the summer and made sure the pathways stayed clear and intact.
Recently, McNamara and his team put the finishing touches on the maze. They bent down dry, prickly leaves that were sticking out and hid markers for the staff to use.
"I've gotten lost plenty of times in there," McNamara laughs, "even with a map."
Two party "rooms" are available for private gatherings at the maze. These areas near the perimeter have canopies and seating for 30 people, and rent for $25 for 2 1/2 hours. Partygoers can bring their own food and entertainment.
Despite weather problems, McNamara says, the corn is 6 to 10 feet tall.
"The drought caught us on one end," Lett says. "And Floyd didn't do any damage."
The property is owned by the county and leased to Brendle Farms Inc., which planted, raised and harvested the corn, leaving the stalks.
The maze is a "concerted effort by a lot of people at Rec and Parks," Lett said, "a wonderful cooperative effort."
Plans are on the books to begin construction of a park and community center on the site, so Lett and McNamara are not sure whether next year's maze will be in the same location. But both are sure that there will be a maze somewhere.
"We plan to continue. Literally, it is growing," said Lett, referring to the number of visitors over the past two years. Corn mazes are "cropping up all over the country," she added.
The maze will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, this week through Oct. 24. Hayrides, a pumpkin patch and a straw-bale maze for young children are on the grounds.
On Oct. 23, a Harvest Happening, reminiscent of an old-time country fair, will take place. Scarecrow-making, crafts, food, historical re-enactments and entertainment are planned. Admission will be $1.
The rain date is Oct. 24.
The A-maize-ing Place is on Carrs Mill Road, near Route 97. Admission is $5; $4 for children ages 4 to 12. Groups of 15 or more pay $3 a person.
Oysters and ham
Lisbon United Methodist Church will hold its semiannual oyster and ham supper from 1: 30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 16.
Supper coordinator Gayle Carter says the oysters are farm raised in Florida. Dinner includes homemade potato salad, cole slaw, Jell-O salad, green beans, corn, rolls and beverages. The food is served family-style. Carryout is available.
Tickets are $10; $5 for children ages 6 to 12.
The church is at 15875 Frederick Road (Route 144), next to Lisbon Elementary School.
Information: 301-831-3639 or 410-489-7245.