PARKMAN — Fall is upon us and for many local farmers that means it is harvest time; but for the CFO of Padlock Ranch and his wife, the harvest takes on a whole new angle.
Steven and Julie Severe have been heading north on weekends for the past 18 years to carve a little fun out of their fields as the owners and operators of The Maize at Grandpa’s Farm.
The unique attraction is part corn maze, part carnival and events center, part children’s education center and all family fun.
It all started when Steven Severe was working as chief financial officer at the Deseret Ranch in Cody. A young cornmazer came to work at the ranch as an intern.
“We got to be good friends so when he finished his internship and went back to college we visited and he did a corn maze that year,” Severe said. “We talked to him and heard how well he had done and we thought we may as well give it a try. We had seven kids at home and we started it as a college fund to help them get going and have a little family fun.”
All of the Severe kids grew up working the maze and put in a lot of hard work while having a little fun, Severe said. But the venture was far from a college savings plan at first.
“The first year didn’t go well at all, it was a bust,” Severe said.
“But like most people in agriculture, if it doesn’t go well this year you need to try again another year, so that’s what we did. Now we’ve had our ups and downs but it has done well enough over the years that we want to keep going.”
What started a carved out pathways through tall fields of corn didn’t just continue, it grew.
The first few years they only had the maze but the past few years have seen the addition of attractions including a hay mountain with a slide that comes off of it, a cow train (a small train of 55 gallon barrels pulled by a little tractor for the kids), an apocalyptic paintball game area, a roping arena, carnival and other games, live animals, pig races, “Kiddieville” and more.
New this year, visitors can join in a game of human foosball, stop by the corn box or try their hand at the Hi-Striker’s game (commonly seen at carnivals, using a hammer to show off your strength). There’s a pumpkin patch on-site too.
But it’s not all fun and games.
“We have some educational signs around the maze that talk about corn and pumpkins and animals and all of that ties in with the experience and what you learn,” Severe said. “It’s a down home, back to basics operation. We want kids to understand where their food comes from and have a little fun. The best part for me is to see young families come out and unplug from your devices and walk in nature and maybe get a little dirt and dust on ya’ and have a little fun just doing something simple.”
Though the Severes live in Sheridan County, locals interested in experiencing Grandpa’s Farm will have to make the drive the owners make every weekend: to Billings, Montana.
“There’s not enough people in Cody or Sheridan to make it work because believe it or not there’s quite a bit of overhead involved so if you don’t get enough people you’re just doing it for the fun,” Severe said. “We lease the land we do the maze and the courtyard, parking and all of that on and we have to pay him for the corn that we cut out. But they have been really good to us. They are just salt of the earth people up there and it’s been a win-win for all of us.”
Severe will tell you just about anything you want to know about his family, his job, agriculture or Grandpa’s Farm; just don’t ask how they design the intricate mazes that look more like masterpieces when viewed from above.
“I tell everybody that’s what the aliens left, but nobody believes me,” Severe said. “Secrets of the maze, I guess.”
Planning to attend?
The Maize at Grandpa’s Farm
58th Street West and Grand Ave in Billings
General Admission $9, $12 when maze is haunted
Paintball $21 and $24 haunted
Open now through Halloween Weds. and Fri. evenings and all day Saturday
See www.themaizeatgrandpasfarm.com for details