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Get lost in the corn

Tucker Farms corn maze in Gabriels opening Friday

Brothers Tom (left), Jim (center) and Steve (right) Tucker of Tucker Farms in Gabriels. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

GABRIELS — It’s time to head to the cornfield. On Friday, Tucker Farms will open the 2020 edition of the Great Adirondack Corn Maze.

Carved into 8 acres of silage corn on a potato farm that’s been operating since the early 1900s, the corn maze began in 2004, when the Tucker brothers needed a revenue stream to supplement their family’s 50-acre potato farm.

“We were going broke and hungry,” Tom Tucker said recently, standing in the family’s barn next to the cornfield with brothers Jim and Steve. Tom and Steve Tucker operate Tucker Farms, Inc., a potato farm recognized as Century Farm by the New York State Agricultural Society, for over 100 years of continuous family farming in Franklin County. Jim has been on the faculty at Paul Smith’s College since 1997. Another brother, Dick, runs the Tucker Farms website, www.tuckertaters.com. The farm currently grows 13 varieties of New York state certified seed potatoes, including Adirondack Reds, Daisy Golds, and varieties of purple and blue potatoes.

“Harvest costs a lot, and by fall we were out of money,” Tom said. An early U-pick strawberry project was too labor-intensive, so the Tuckers decided to try agricultural tourism, and thus the Great Adirondack Corn Maze was born.

The corn is planted in north-south rows, explained the brothers, and when it’s 6 inches high, “you have a grid like graph paper.” Then you mow it like grass, and keep mowing it every week. The Tuckers used push mowers in the beginning, then switched to a zero-turn riding mower, which is easier on both the mechanical and the human mowers. The first mowing takes four or five days; the follow-up mowings can be done in four hours or so.

An aerial view of this year’s corn maze at Tucker Farms, designed by artist Shane McIntosh. (Provided photo — Chad Quinn)

The mazes are designed in different patterns each year, thematic art rather than the geometry of, say, the hotel hedge maze in the Stanley Kubrick film “The Shining.” The Tuckers came up with the first designs, then outsourced them to local high school art students. This year local artist Shane McIntosh designed the maze around the theme of outer space, a fitting topic given the recent SpaceX launches.

“We didn’t want it to be controversial or COVID-related,” Tom said. “Everybody’s tired of talking about it,” he said about the ongoing pandemic.

The Tuckers also noted that there’s not much else going on these days, so they’re hopeful that folks will want to spend a few hours navigating their cornfield.

“I don’t think there’s anything else open now. Maybe miniature golf,” said Tom, who compared the corn maze to an evening out at the movies with the kids, though one you can talk through.

The maze is constructed with an entrance and an exit, and eight mailboxes throughout the interior, each with copies of part of the map of the maze that people use to navigate their way through and, hopefully, out. The maze is open Thursday through Sunday, with Friday and Saturday hours extending into the night. On those nights, the Tuckers build a bonfire and have s’mores. “If they make it out,” Steve said.

Not everyone gets through the maze successfully, it seems. “People will come back and try again,” Tom said. “Others will leave.” Do the brothers ever navigate their own corn maze? “At night,” Tom said. “Chasing after obnoxious youth.”

“The challenge is to do it in August,” said Jim, when the corn grows so high “it almost tunnels over.” To keep things interesting — since movie theaters have yet to open, including the drive-in movies that the Tuckers have periodically run in a nearby field — the Tuckers move the entrance and exit every month. And on the Saturday night before Halloween, the maze will be haunted. “There’s a full moon that night too,” Steve said.

The corn maze opens Aug. 14 and will close after Halloween. “Then it becomes a cow field,” Tom said.

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