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ISU agriculture alum scores with Blackhawks corn maze

 

Chicago Blackhawks fever has spread everywhere, even to the cornfields of rural Illinois.

A family farm turned agritourism destination co-owned by Illinois State alum Ryan Richardson ’03 just unveiled a massive corn maze intricately designed to honor the Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks.

When seen from the sky, the 28-acre maze—which is technically four smaller mazes—features the iconic Blackhawks logo and the words “Champions 2015.” It’s the latest in a series of stunning maze designs that’s helped put Richardson Adventure Farm on the map in Spring Grove, near the Wisconsin border. Media outlets from all over have been calling Richardson’s family this week about the Hawks maze.

“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Richardson. “The maze turned out great. It looks beautiful.”

Richardson graduated from Illinois State’s Department of Agriculture. After working a few other jobs, he joined the family business in Spring Grove, which dates back to 1840. He represents the sixth generation to work on the homestead, and he’s now one of five partners, along with his father George, uncle Robert, and their wives Wendy and Carol.

Ryan Richardson

Illinois State alum Ryan Richardson with his wife, Kristen, and one of his daughters, Ashley.

As the ag industry changed and land prices skyrocketed, the Richardsons have adapted to survive by expanding into the agritourism business. In 1981 they added a cut-your-own Christmas tree farm, which now has 100,000 trees in the ground. In 2001, Richardson’s uncle got them into the corn maze game.

Ryan was in the agriculture industry management sequence at Illinois State (now split into the animal industry or agronomy management sequences in the agriculture major). That’s given him the skills to navigate all the unique aspects of agritourism—including all the permits, regulations, attorneys, construction, and contractors.

“My degree has really come in handy,” he said. “There are lots of things that come into play every day.”

His farm claims to have one of the world’s largest corn mazes—a huge tourist draw during their regular fall season. (The farm is open from Labor Day to Halloween, and then it’s Christmas tree season.)

Every year they hire Idaho-based Maze Play to help design and create the maze. In the past, they’ve done similarly elaborate designs, including tributes to the U.S. military, the Beatles, and the Bears.

It only takes two or three days for Maze Play to finish its work, but that requires a lot of planning up front. The Richardsons have to plant the corn a certain way, then cut it at the right time, then widen the paths so people can move through the mazes easily. Four smaller mazes connect to create the complete design.

The design is its own challenge. The Richardsons had to get approval from the Blackhawks to use the team’s logo in the first place. (Not everyone says yes to being featured in a maze. Just ask Disney.)

“The Blackhawks have been wonderful to work with,” Richardson said. “In recent years the Hawks have gained so much momentum. They’ve become very, very popular around here.”

One of the top Blackhawks executives, Jay Blunk ’86, is also an Illinois State alum. Blunk even brought the Stanley Cup to Illinois State’s Homecoming parade after the team’s title run in 2010.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.

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