With fall comes cooler temperatures, colorful leaves and best of all, Halloween. One Halloween tradition that has stood the test of time is the corn maze. Come October, people of all ages choose to spend their nights and weekends getting lost in vast fields of corn. If that sounds like your kind of fun, Bestmaze in Williamston, located right off of I-96, is the place for you.
The 16-year-old Bestmaze, in many people’s opinion, really is the best maze in Michigan. But how does a corn maze manage to stick around for that long? To learn the secrets behind Bestmaze’s success, we went and talked with the owner and operator, Mark Banjamin.
Among other duties involved in owning this operation, Banjamin creates all of the maze designs. He spends around 100 hours in the winter sketching and doodling in order to come up with a design that he likes. Banjamin explained that his way of designing his mazes is different from how others design them.
“Most mazes are cut as one giant picture, but a giant picture doesn’t let itself become a great maze. I make small pictures inside of a really hard maze.”
This design style is one of the reasons that Bestmaze is so challenging. Within the maze, there are multiple loops and true dead ends, so that maze goers actually have to figure the maze out, rather than having multiple correct paths that they could take.
This year, Banjamin based his design on the hugely successful movie “Finding Dory.” The theme for the maze is “under the sea” and the trails are cut into the shape of a clown fish like Nemo and Marlin, a blue tang like Dory, a sea turtle like Crush and an octopus like Hank. You are provided a color map to follow, but that doesn’t guarantee you will find your way out of the maze. It helps you see the different trails, but watch out: it is only 90 percent correct!
Another thing that sets Bestmaze apart from other corn mazes are the trails. Banjamin and his family hand rake over three miles of trails to ensure that they are smooth enough that wheelchairs can make it through the maze. When you walk through the miles of corn you notice how wide and level the trails are, too, which is perfect for families with kids and those of us who are a little on the clumsier side.
Four safety towers are located throughout the maze where “maze cops” sit to keep an eye on visitors. The maze cops ensure that everyone is having a good time, and they can alert staff if there are people who need help exiting. There are also optional exits denoted by signs for those who want to take advantage of them.
The three mile-long corn maze isn’t the only attraction that Bestmaze has to offer! If you are brave enough to go through it, there is also a shorter, haunted trail. With $40,000 worth of animatronics and phantoms running around to scare the life out of you, this haunted trail isn’t for the faint of heart. Contained within are Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, demon bugs, a swamp, a graveyard, a crystal ball room and 12-ft. tall animatronic monsters that jump out at visitors.
After 16 years, the Bestmaze crew knows a thing or two about getting people to come and visit every season. Over the years, the maze has grown into what you see today. They’ve even had to expand the parking lot twice in order to keep up with the demand.
“Our first year, our haunt was what people think of a typical farm haunt, kids running around going boo. Now we are as full-fledged as any big national haunt with all the animatronics.”
Not only have the maze and the haunted trail gotten bigger and better, but Bestmaze has also added other fun activities for everyone to enjoy. This year, in addition to the mazes, there will be laser tag, a laser obstacle course and jousting!
How do they maintain such a thrilling experience year after year? Banjamin explained that in addition to a new maze design every season, he also changes at least 50 percent of the haunted trail to keep it new and exciting. Bestmaze trades animatronics and decorations with haunted houses around the country in order to uphold the standard of excellence that people have come to expect.
“Michigan is the haunted capital of the world; there are so many haunted houses in southern Michigan. So I change mine every year as a reason to come to it. Everybody wants that unique fall experience. The reason they keep coming back here is because of the extra things we do like the towers [or] the full-blown haunt out in the middle of a farm that they just don’t expect.”
The real question is – when are you planning your visit? Banjamin said that if all you want to do is experience the maze, the best night to come is Friday. If you want to take on the haunted trail, then the best nights are Friday and Saturday. The rest of the information about the maze is available on their website, bestmaze.com. Tickets are $8 for the maze, $15 for the haunted trail and group rates are available.
Jessica Gibbons is a senior majoring in humanities pre-law with an additional major in professional writing. Her dream is to become the editor in chief of a publication. She enjoys reading, playing with her cat and watching entirely too much Netflix.