15 years of a‘maze’ment

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October 7, 2013 - 12:00 AM

LAHARPE — “I just start stacking it,” Gene Weatherbie said, standing next to his back porch, overlooking the 300-bale hay maze he has constructed for this year’s fall season.
Weatherbie has been building hay mazes out of large, round bales every year for the past 15 years. He started the tradition after building a maze for the flag-football team he coached. He lives north of LaHarpe, on Texas Road, and his 300-acre property is perfectly suited for the seasonal entertainment.
This year’s maze is nothing short of incredible. The bales are intricately stacked end-to-end, creating narrow pathways for families to wander through. Weatherbie said the space in his backyard has been dedicated completely to the maze. There’s no doubt of that. An entryway where he takes tickets marks the beginning of a Halloween experience. In addition to the maze, there are campfires, wooded meadows, faux graveyards and dark tunnels, to name a few.
When Weatherbie originally started building the mazes, they were constructed out of around 90 bales; now the size has tripled. He has anywhere from eight to 12 volunteers dress up on the weekends to entertain the intrepid maze explorers (it’s toned down for the younger kids). Originally, he and his children — Dalton, 21, and Cassidy, 23 — were the only volunteers.
The process begins during the late summer, when Weatherbie cuts the hay on his 300-acre farm and bales it.
“At that point, I’ll go ahead and start bringing the bales over,” he said. He has no specific method to his madness, but lets his imagination take control. It works every time.
The opening day for the maze is Friday, and Weatherbie gave The Register a brief tour of what the crowds can expect. Every year he said he has added more fog machines and lighting to create a perfect atmosphere.
“The teenagers are the ones that get the most scared,” Weatherbie laughed. “Though I’ve heard grown men scream like girls.”
He laughed when asked how long it takes people to find their way out of the maze — “a lot of people have to be shown out.”
He said the maze has grown exponentially over the past 15 years. He has already been getting calls from as far away as Topeka, wondering if the maze is ready to go for this year. He already has two days booked for SAFE BASE students and Modern Woodmen insurance.
He said the atmosphere is important, but the environment does a lot of the work for him. The falls leaves and crooked branches of his trees just “scream” of fall and Halloween.
“Being out here, in the outdoors, it really does the work for you,” Weatherbie said.

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