McHenry County is home to several record-breaking attractions. Harvard Milk Days is the longest-running festival in Illinois. The Illinois Railway Museum is the largest in America. And, guests have come from as far as Tokyo to see the largest corn maze in the world, located in Spring Grove.
Richardson Corn Maze welcomes more than 10,000 visitors per year to its family-friendly, teamwork-oriented atmosphere. In fact, local fire and police departments host their annual team-building events at the maze. The maze regularly attracts school groups and scout troops who are eager to explore, build character and engage in wholesome, country fun.
Richardson Farm’s current 28-acre maze commemorates the Chicago Bears’ 2006 NFC championship and is made up of four smaller maze sections named "Cheerleader," "Quarterback," "Touchdown" and "Chicago Bears," for 11 total miles of trail. There are seven entrance trails to choose from as well as multiple exits in case you need a food or bathroom break.
Some explorers choose to tackle a portion of the maze, while others aim to cover the entire course and find all of the checkpoints, using a map as a guide. Their determined efforts are rewarded. Upon finishing the maze, you’re awarded a special certificate of completion. For an extra degree of fun there’s a quiz-maze entrance that corresponds with a series of questions, the answers to which help guide you through the maze.
In addition to the world’s largest corn maze, Richardson Farm has many other perks to offer its guests. The 50-foot-long tube slide is a thrilling diversion, and a 50-foot-tall observation tower allows you to view the maze from above. Those who tire of walking through the maze can take a breather on free pedal carts that weave through a miniature haystack maze. For your children’s enjoyment, soybean bushes form a short kiddy maze great for getting out any extra energy.
The farm also provides wooded picnic areas and open campfires where you can roast marshmallows or enjoy an outdoor snack. You may bring your own food if you’d like, but don’t worry if you forget the picnic basket at home. S’more kits are available for purchase, and the farm’s food tent serves fresh kettle popcorn, hot cocoa, coffee, cider, candy and other concessions.
As one of the few corn mazes in the country that stays open late, Richardson’s provides a unique, nighttime corn maze experience to its guests. September 28 and 29 and October 26 and 27 are "Full Moon Weekends," which means you can start the maze as late as midnight. Bring your flashlight or buy one at the ticket counter for a moonlit mazing adventure the whole family will enjoy.
Many members of the Richardson family graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so to honor their alma mater’s retired mascot, they’ve constructed a Chief Illiniwek maze, which includes 1.6 miles of trail. This maze is considerably less complex than the Chicago Bears one, so if you or your kids are feeling intimidated by "da Bears" you may opt to say, "Hail to the chief!" instead.
Traditions of kinship have been at the core of the Richardson family tree since the 19th century. In 1840, Robert Richardson emigrated from England to northern Illinois, where he settled and began farming. Five generations have thrived on the land since that time. More than 160 years later, Rob Richardson seeks to preserve the legacy of his namesake and the farm where three generations of his family currently live and work.
Rob Richardson got the idea for the corn maze while reading an article about a fundraising event. At the time, his family farm focused on hog farming but was in need of another source of income. Richardson attended a seminar in Madison, Wisconsin, that discussed how to begin a maze of your own. He discovered that his farm was a prime location for a corn maze. While developing the maze, he thought, "As long as we’re doing this, why not make ours the largest in the world?"
So he did, and the first Richardson Corn Maze began. Since the initial trial run, maze designs have featured Lewis and Clark’s expedition across America, the Richardson Brothers, George and Rob, and the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl XX victory.
Since its first maze in 2001, the team behind the maze’s construction has refined its creative process. Early in the year, a committee brainstorms possible ideas for the maze. Once they’ve selected a theme, the team develops a preliminary sketch, which is sent to the designer, Shawn Stolworthy. He scans the design into his computer, where he can rearrange trails and, ultimately, create a navigable maze.
In late May, after the last sellable crops have been planted, the Richardsons plant sterile, or kernel-less, corn. Half of the sterile crop is sown from north to south and half from east to west to construct a dense block of approximately 40,000 corn stalks per acre. Once the corn comes up to about knee-height, usually mid-summer, the designer visits the farm to carve out the maze using a Global Positioning System unit mounted on a small tractor with a rototiller. Because the GPS unit is interfaced with the designer’s laptop, he is able to drive the tractor as the GPS unit navigates where to cut out the trails.
The maze is ready for guests in early August and remains open until Halloween, when the Spring Grove Fire Department exchanges its uniforms for costumes to haunt the maze. Proceeds benefit local charities.
Just because the corn maze season comes to a close doesn’t mean you must bid farewell to the farm. Christmastime means Christmas trees, which is one of Richardson Farm’s many specialties. The farm grows more than 50,000 trees each season and also has hundreds of wreaths and other decorations available for purchase. Other winter perks include free wagon rides, hot chocolate, homemade donuts and other concessions, as well as free tree shaking and baling.
Admission to the corn maze is $9.50 for adults ages 19 to 64, $8.50 for students 13 to 18 and $7 for children 5 to 12 and senior citizens. Children younger than five are admitted for free. Groups of 20 to 100 receive a discount: Adults and students enter for $8 and children for $7. Group tickets must be purchased as a block, however, and large groups are assessed a reservation fee. For more information, visit www.richardsonfarm.com.
Whether your family tradition is corn mazing or Christmas tree harvesting, chances are you’ll find a way to celebrate it around the campfire at Richardson’s.