190901scl CornMaze

A drone phone taken earlier this month shows the finished maze for this fall at Clark Farms in Matunuck.

From the narrow pathway, not much is visible beyond blue skies and long, lanky stalks of corn, shifting slightly in the breeze. As the path meanders around and through, under a bridge, over a bridge, it becomes a maze, which is precisely the point.

While it may only take a matter of minutes to enter and exit, the corn maze at Clark Farms in Matunuck is an exercise in timeless fun, and the centerpiece of autumn activities at the garden center located off Route 1.

Richard Clark, the owner and operator of the farm, purchased the land in 2005, acquiring it from the Browning family, who he worked for when he was young and who had owned the land since the first European settlers arrived in South County. The original deed, Clark said, is written with a quill and ink.

“It was solid woods when I bought it,” Clark said, noting the soil is formed from glaciers and not ideal for growing, although nearly fifteen years of planting a corn maze has softened it some.

He grew up just down the road in Perryville, and said his interest in agriculture started in first grade, in Mrs. Smith’s class, when he was tasked with planting a tomato seed in a milk carton. This launched a lifelong fascination with cultivation and, by eighth grade, he was operating a farmstand at his parents’ house. This was the first of what would become many farm stands, including one where his garden center and corn maze are now located.

“I kind of came right back to where I started,” Clark said, who has long called Matunuck home, and finds it a peaceful place to live.

After high school, he studied plant science and business at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture, and then returned home to Rhode Island to open a more permanent version of his childhood farm stand. In 1992, he purchased a commercial property off Kingstown Road in Wakefield and opened the first Clark Farms Garden Center, which he continues to operate.  

“I was persistent in my failures,” he said with a wry smile, explaining that operating a farm stand proved to be a challenge back then, and that times have changed. “There’s a renaissance in agriculture around here now.”

When he purchased the land in Matunuck, his son was about three or four years old, and he immediately went to work planting a maze, thinking it was an activity his son would love. The theme was the rainforest because of a recent exhibit they had visited, and instead of corn, he planted sunflowers. This started a long tradition of not only planting a maze, but of enlisting his son as the curator of themes.

“For years he was our consultant,” Clark said, “but we just dropped him off at college.”

The corn is planted around June 20, three months before opening day, and covers about two acres, which classifies it as a mini maze. Clark said he prefers his corn on the shorter side, and noted this year’s crop is a tad tall, coming in at about 12 feet.

When it comes to turning the theme into an actual maze, Clark partners with Maize Quest, the company that generates the aerial image and planting grid. Maize Quest also creates interactive educational stations that are scattered throughout the maze, turning it into a scavenger hunt.

This year’s theme is The Lost City of Atlantis, and at certain points, maze-goers will come across panels, like one on Poseidon, which reads, “The Greek god Poseidon was the god of the sea. According to legend, he is responsible for building Atlantis.” At this station, questers can make a crayon rubbing of Poseidon on the game sheet they were given before entering the maze.

All in all, the corn maze takes about five minutes to go through, Clark said, noting there are prizes for those who complete their game sheets. The maze empties into an area with tire swings and a fire pit, which is used for s’mores on select Friday and Saturday evenings, when the maze compound is open after dark and questers are offered flashlights.  

In addition to the maze, other popular attractions include Maze Mountain, which features a large slide that descends from a small hill, and the Corn Cannon.

“You can throw an ear of corn about a healthy hundred yards,” Clark said, matter-of-factly. Other activities include a corn pit, a gemstone mine “spiked with fossils,” peddle go-carts, and miniature ziplines.

There is also Clark’s Canteen, which offers snacks, including hot dogs and hand-cut french fries made from potatoes grown at the farm, hayrides through the woods that offer educational tidbits about composting and crops (of note: they have wheelchair accessible load-in wagons), and miniature donkeys and goats to admire and feed.

“That was always my vision for this place: a farm museum,” Clark said, describing the overall atmosphere as family-oriented, relaxed fun with agriculturally-oriented education wherever possible.

The corn maze opens in earnest Sept. 20, and runs through the end of October. For more information about times and tickets, visit clarkfarms.com.

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