Maze helps farmer lose his money woes

Aozotorp at Aozotorp at
Tue Sep 12 15:25:22 EDT 2000

Maze helps farmer lose his money woes

By Michael Booth 
Denver Post Staff Writer 
Sept. 12, 2000 - The twists and turns cut into the maze in Glen Fritzler's 
cornfield are a confounding puzzle to the city dwellers who pay good money to 
come out and get lost. But they're nothing compared to the twists and turns 
he's negotiated in the past 10 years trying to make a profit from farming.

After bumping into dead end after dead end and feeling the uncontrollable 
forces of weather and crop prices force him into wrong turns nearly every 
year, Michael Booth Fritzler may finally be in the black again come 
Halloween, thanks to the maze and the friendship he formed with its Utah 

"It's been kind of overwhelming," said Fritzler, 43, still sounding slightly 
dazed Monday from a weekend of cars unloading customers at his dusty fields 
about 40 miles north of Denver. "It's very exciting, but I still have a lot 
of disbelief that people would want to come out to my farm and see the maze. 
Every night I thank the Lord that I had this opportunity. I still can't 
believe it." Fritzler and his family welcome the possible change in fortune 
in 2000 after a decade of being pummeled by chance in the 1990s. The 
Fritzlers grow carrots, onions and sweet corn on 350 acres near La Salle, off 
of U.S. 85. They started farming in 1980, and finally paid off debts to be 
independent growers in 1990. Then it hailed. And hailed again. They borrowed 
money to make it through the bad years, then watched the bad years pile up 
like more hail.

"Whenever we had a (good) price, we didn't have a crop to sell, and when we 
had a crop to sell, we didn't have a price," Fritzler said. "Only two in the 
past 10 years have been in the black." A couple of years ago, amid all the 
trouble, his cousin George called to rave about a cornfield maze he had 
visited in Arizona, and suggested Glen try it as a way to bring in cash.

Fritzler wasn't interested, didn't know what mazes were or why anyone would 
drive from Denver to get stuck in one. "But then you see the bottom line, a 
negative at the end of the year, you start thinking maybe we need to do 
something different," Fritzler said. "And then in the next six months we knew 
the next year wasn't going to be any better." That's when he gave Brett 
Herbst a call. Herbst had done the Arizona maze, and as Fritzler and others 
soon came to find out, Herbst is the king of confusing corn. His company has 
helped construct 61 mazes this fall alone, across the United States and 
Canada, each of them wildly inventive designs in head-high corn that can take 
hours to get through.

Fritzler settled on a Bronco-style horse head right away, then fudged the 
pattern a little to satisfy legal concerns raised by the football team. This 
spring, he planted grain corn in one field instead of his usual sweet 
variety, because it grows taller and can still be harvested after the 
Halloween closing of the maze.

Four weeks into the corn's growth, Fritzler and Herbst headed into the field 
with a secret tool chest of measuring lines, marking flags, a 
computer-generated grid, and some machinery available on most crop farms. 
It's a lot of row-counting, a lot of walking, and a lot of measuring-twice, 
cut-once, Fritzler said. "You don't have the opportunity do undo any 
mistakes. It's very unforgiving." After viewing the first cut from above, 
they touched up a few O's in the "Giddy Up Colorado" slogan.

He signed a contract with Herbst, paying a fee for the design and cutting 
help, and splitting a percentage of the gate, which is $6 for adults, less 
for kids.

Then he wondered if anybody would show up, only to feel "amazed" -- "we hear 
ourselves using that word a lot," Fritzler said, remarking on the school 
buses that unload and the cars that line up on County Road 33. His wife, Kim, 
sells tickets, and his children, Amanda, 10, and Trevor, 8, sell T-shirts or, 
when they're not in school, help the perplexed through the maze. With crop 
prices at excruciating lows this year, Fritzler is thankful to find a new 
source of income, and hopes other farmers are not jealous that he may have 
found a way out of the boom-bust cycle.

Herbst, who grew up on an Idaho ranch and studied agriculture in college, 
said he is happy his chosen trade is helping a few people toiling in the 
toughest of lifestyles. "It's in my blood," Herbst said. "That just makes it 
more rewarding for me." Farming in cursive doesn't bring a break from the 
long hours of straight-row farming. With his maze open until 10 p.m. Fridays 
and Saturdays, Fritzler often doesn't stumble back into the house until 1 
a.m., then has to get up early to keep the working farm in shape.

"The kids don't see dad near as much as they used to," Fritzler sighed. But, 
he added, "It looks to be a good decision. I would have to guess it's going 
to be a profitable venture for us, and something we'll continue doing." Call 
970-737-2129 for information on Fritzler's maze.

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