A-maze-ing history lesson

Sunday, July 27, 2003

BLODGETT, Mo. -- Once the watermelons start to ripen, Donnie Beggs works through November harvesting the crops planted among his 1,100-acre farm near Blodgett, Mo.

But there's a 12-acre cornfield across the road that goes untouched.

And while the melons are his No. 1 source of revenue, it's a small patch of corn that keeps Beggs busy throughout the year.

For the third straight year, Beggs will grow a field of corn exclusively for creating a maze. The maze is the largest in the Midwest.

First it was Bronco Billy and the Wild West and then Treasure Island and a pirate ship that took shape among the stalks off Highway U in Scott County. This year, Lewis and Clark will draw the crowds.

Even after it's explained to them, people still doubt that such a thing as creating a maze among rows of corn even be done, said Sheila Beggs, his wife.

It's sort of like the mystery of crop circles, the Beggs say.

Exactly how the maze is designed is like a magician's secret, Donnie says. "Once I tell you, it's not as mysterious."

All the maze designs are computer generated, and the designers help create games and storyboards that will be set up throughout the paths to tell visitors about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

Because of the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition, Beggs wanted to try creating the men in maze format. He took the idea to a designer at Maizequest, the Pennsylvania-based company that draws out his maze.

The corn was just planted July 8, so it will take a few more weeks of growing before any paths can be etched out. When the maze opens the last weekend of September, the corn will still be green.

Each row in the maze is 15 inches apart while most cornfield rows are 30 inches wide. But the density helps create the design and give it detail. Beggs will remove the corn he doesn't want or need in the maze and leave the rest.

But the maze doesn't just teach people about farming. "You don't just learn corn, you learn about wherever I take you," Donnie Beggs said. "I could take you to the moon or on an African safari, but this year I'm taking you down the Missouri River."

Few people realize that Lewis and Clark came up the Ohio River to the Mississippi River and that Southeast Missouri was their first stop in the Louisiana Territory, he said. The maze will teach them some of that. There is information about farming and how what Lewis and Clark discovered along their trip that changed the way we eat today.

Even when Mother Nature didn't cooperate with the corn maze, the Beggs learned how to use that to their advantage. Last year's pirate ship didn't grow to the height Donnie Beggs had hoped for because of some trouble with corn borers in the field.

"But we just used that to teach about farming," he said.

When school, church and Scout groups visited -- and dozens do -- he would ask them to explain why the corn stalks yellowed or why there were holes in the leaves. Then he'd tell the children what really happened in the field and how weather and insects can affect crops.

"It's not a perfect world," Donnie Beggs said. "We took what was bad and used it as a tool."

And he hopes schools will see a visit to the farm as an important lesson. Many children "drive by a farm every day and know nothing about it," Beggs said.

He hopes that changes with a visit or two.


335-6611, extension 126

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