Lost in their work: La Salle family’s maze is a big hit

Glen Fritzler works nearly year-round on the maze. Here, in June, he sprays herbicide on what will become a corn maze south of La Salle. The herbicide kills the corn, forming the pathways. Enlarge photo

Eric Bellamy/Greeley Tribune

Glen Fritzler works nearly year-round on the maze. Here, in June, he sprays herbicide on what will become a corn maze south of La Salle. The herbicide kills the corn, forming the pathways.

GREELEY (AP) – Six weeks out of the year, Glen Fritzler looks out of his living room window at an inflatable, lizard-like creature, 15 acres of intricately cut corn and a full parking lot.

Then, just as fast as they come, visitors to his world-famous corn maze in La Salle are gone, waiting in anticipation for the unveiling of next year’s design.

But Fritzler’s work never ends.

In the maze’s first year, Fritzler and family were just manning a corn maze and a pumpkin patch on the spread five miles south of Greeley. This year, they sifted through 400 applications from potential employees to run 20 attractions on the farm’s agro-tourism attraction.

Fritzler said he works about 14 hours per day while the maze is open, in addition to the more serious business of running 350 acres of his real farm.

When the shrieks emitting from the Scream Acres end after Halloween, the Fritzlers are tearing down the maze until around Thanksgiving, he said. They harvested corn from the maze in late November, a little later than usual because the corn must dry down because of a cold spring and wet snowstorms, Fritzler said.

When that’s over, Fritzler said he gets a little down time – “There are things I can do, but that I don’t have to do” – and then momentum picks up as the deadline approaches to select a new maze design in May.

The design might be the single most important factor in the maze, Fritzler said.

“When I meet someone, their first question is, ‘What is the design going to be?’” he said.

The Fritzlers gained national recognition for the maze’s Sept. 11 tribute in 2002 on the “Today” show, and international recognition – they were published in a paper in Japan – for the 2008 maze design that honored their parents, Ed and Eileen Fritzler.

This was the first year the Fritzlers turned to fans on Facebook to help with the “Country Strong” theme, featuring an uncolored awareness ribbon that visitors could interpret to represent different causes.

Fritzler said he isn’t sure if they’ll do that again next year, but he said he might try a contest or some other way to involve customer ideas.

Once the design is selected, Fritzler sends it to a company in Utah, which mails him back with a packet of grid maps, accurate down to the inch. Nothing is computerized, Fritzler said, meaning they don’t use any Global Positioning System technology to design or cut out the maze.

“I guess you could say we do it the old-fashioned way,” Fritzler said.

Old-fashioned, traditional farm life is what Fritzler said he strives to keep alive for his visitors. When he purchased The Creature, he said he worried the high-tech addition might take away from the farm-like environment.

“We really went out on a limb,” he said. “We were thinking, ‘Are people going to say we got too commercial?’ But they are still in the middle of a cornfield.”

And other parts of the maze counter the modern feel of The Creature and the 3-D vortex. Fritzler said the slide mountain, new this year, is made of materials one might find on a farm, such as truck-bed lining and PVC pipe. One of the train cars is made of Medal Gold orange-juice barrels, he said.

In June, Fritzler, his son and two others get to cutting the maze corn, which takes about five days in ideal conditions, he said.

He stops irrigating the cornfield 10 days before opening, then packs down the pathways with a smooth roller. While the maze is open, Fritzler said he goes through regularly with a pike tool to keep leaves from hitting maze-goers in the face.

Then comes Nov. 1, when cars drain out of the parking lot, the screams are silenced, and The Creature waits to be torn down until the next year.

“We really do enjoy it and do miss it when it’s closed,” Fritzler said. “It has become a part of our lives.”