Spokane Journal of Business

For-profit corn maze gives boost to nonprofit groups

Fall attraction trades staffing assistance for monetary donations

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For-profit corn maze gives boost to nonprofit groups
-—Staff photo by Jessica Valencia
Suzie Dunn, owner of the Incredible Corn Maze, says groups that have raised money at the fall attraction include a Coeur d'Alene school, Upward Sports, and several others.

Suzie Dunn, owner of the Incredible Corn Maze, spends the year preparing for more than 10,000 people to visit the attraction during its six-week operating season, but in that time frame, Dunn also expects to give thousands of dollars to community groups and nonprofits that help staff the maze on weekends.

Located at 3405 N. Beck in Hauser, Idaho, near the Washington-Idaho state line, the corn maze, operating under the company name NW Creative Solutions LLC, is nearing the end of its ninth season. The maze is open on the weekends, and toward the end of the week as the season progresses. Dunn says the corn maze has a short, medium, and long maze, plus the Field of Screams, a separate 3 1/2-acre haunted maze that opened last weekend. The three mazes are situated on a 12-acre field.

Partnering with the community for the corn maze, even though she operates it as a for-profit enterprise, made sense for Dunn, who says it not only drives traffic through word of mouth, but also helps out various community groups in the process.

"My partner and I always tried to find that community partnership," Dunn says.

The maze donates thousands of dollars in tickets, services, and cash annually as a result of those partnerships or through tickets donated through a number of auctions.

The corn maze this year has dedicated every weekend since opening in September to a different group, including Sorensen Magnet School in Coeur d'Alene, Upward Sports, and North Idaho Roller Derby.

Dunn says most of the nonprofit groups that the maze works with are geared toward children. She says the groups help staff the maze, acting as aids for guests who are navigating the maze and need help finding their way out. Typically, each group manages to raise between $1,000 and $1,500 during a weekend, she says.

She adds that the amount of money a group receives is based on the number of people needed to staff the maze; a group at the beginning of the season will likely receive a smaller amount as fewer hands are needed then to help.

"Some people we've had for years and years, and some rotate every year," Dunn says of the groups she works with. "There's a certain amount of turnaround per year."

For those groups that don't have the ability to staff the maze, Dunn says she works with them by offering dollar-off coupons that groups hand out. For each person using a coupon at the maze, the company donates a dollar to the organization that handed out the coupons. Dunn adds that multiple people can use the same coupon.

Dunn says she started her search for a corn maze a decade ago. She says 10 years ago, there was a maze located in Liberty Lake, but it only managed to stick around for one season before it went out of business. She was working in the events department for a radio station at that time and looked into partnering with a corn maze for a fall event. She says she drove around trying to find a new location for the maze, until she came across the field where it now operates. Since then, Dunn has bought the cornfield from the farmer to be used for the annual attraction.

Dunn, who says the corn maze partnered with the radio station up until this year, continues to work with Eastern Washington and North Idaho community groups, offering them a chance to raise money in exchange for staffing support.

Dunn says she typically sees between 20 and 30 groups book the maze each season. She says generally, groups are connected to a church, school, or scouting troop, but she has seen a rise this year in corporate traffic; companies booking group days at the maze for company retreats.

"Every year is different, and it depends on Mother Nature," Dunn says about the popularity and traffic at the maze.

She says typically 60 percent to 70 percent of the traffic comes toward the end of the season, with the Field of Screams garnering more popularity in the final few weeks. This season has been average in regards to traffic, Dunn says, adding that it's typical to see 10,000 to 16,000 visitors in the six-week period.

"Once that haunted maze opens, if you look at the season as a whole, it's a 50-50 draw," Dunn says.

In preparation for the maze, the farmer plants corn like a normal crop in the spring, but the corn is planted more densely to decrease visibility. A few weeks before the maze is expected to open, Maze Play, a Firth, Idaho, company specifically geared toward creating corn maze plans, visits the site with a computer-generated path. She says a computer is hooked up to a tractor, and in a matter of a few hours, the corn field becomes a corn maze. After Halloween, Dunn says the corn, which she purchases at a flat rate from the farmer, is harvested and sold as feed if the weather allows the farmer to do so. If that's not possible, the corn is plowed over and used for fertilizer on the field.

For Dunn, planning for next year and analyzing what worked and didn't work previously starts soon after the season ends, usually around December or January.

"Even though it's a six-week event, there's something about it that's alive all year-round," Dunn says.

The Incredible Corn Maze will remain open this weekend and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Halloween.

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