‘Angry Birds’ corn maze ready for launch

Posted: September 14, 2013

The Winchester Star

Philip Shenk (from left), his wife Theresa Shenk and his brother Mark Shenk, owners of Wayside Farm along Harry Byrd Highway (Va. 7) in Clarke County, are set to open their farm to visitors. The “Angry Birds” corn maze will be open Friday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for seven weekends beginning Sept. 21. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
Theresa Shenk feeds one of Wayside Farm’s goats on the goat walk on Friday. Shenk said she has been training the goats to walk on the elevated walkway by enticing them with food. Then they will come up on their own — to entertain youngsters — once the farm opens to visitors on Sept. 21. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

BERRYVILLE — Racing pigs and climbing goats and having the chance to get lost in acres of corn.

These are some of the attractions at Wayside Farm, and its “Angry Bird” corn maze, opening on Sept. 21.

The Angry Bird and its giant slingshot, which have slowed traffic on Harry Byrd Highway (Va. 7) since early summer, have been joined by round-hay bale pigs and pumpkins to publicize the pick-your-own pumpkin venue that is a new entry in the agri-tourism industry in Clarke County.

Farm owners Phil and Mark Shenk have teamed with the Wegmeyer family from Hamilton to create a variety of things to see and do at the 125-acre farm — as a business and also as a way to educate people about farms and farming.

The corn maze is expected to be the big draw.

The Shenks planted 26 acres of field corn last spring, with 10 acres devoted to the maze. From the air, the maze shows a plump bird getting ready to launch, via a slingshot.

The interesting thing, according to Tyler Wegmeyer, is that another corn maze in Iowa completes the story, with the bird smashing into a pig — as it does in the popular “Angry Birds” video game.

The maze has two paths. One is short, said Phil Shenk, and should take about 45 minutes to complete. The longer version is more of a challenge and may keep participants tramping for 90 minutes.

Mark Shenk said he has been mowing the paths through the maze to keep them open as the corn grew.

The last time, he said, “I ended up at the same spot three times.”

However, those who are teachable can get some help. Phil Shenk said the maze has placards at intersections with questions about agriculture. The correct answer is a clue to the proper way to proceed.

Quick Response codes are also displayed, so those with the appropriate technology can download a map of the maze.

And finally, “corn cops” will be placed strategically for anyone who becomes hopelessly lost.

Phil’s wife Theresa is in charge of another section of fun on the farm. She’s training the six piglets that will run races for the spectators during the weekends.

Food is the reward and a school bell is the starting signal.

Several times a day, she goes into the piglets’ pen, carrying a bucket of feed, and rings the bell.

“I run around the course and they follow me,” she said. The piglets have already learned to follow closely behind, because the feed can be found in a wide pan at the end of the run.

Her other charges, young goats, are learning a different trick.

Mark and Phil have built two tall platforms, connected by a bridge, with a narrow ramp leading up from a lower level.

Theresa has the job of teaching the sure-footed goats that feed can be found on top.

That means climbing up herself — a bit of a challenge for a woman who doesn’t like heights.

“I figured it was going to be me,” she said, when the decision was made about who would do the training. “I’m the true animal lover. Maybe over the top sometimes.”

In addition to the animal performers, calves, llamas, chickens and ducks will be on hand to watch and feed.

A variety of games will keep children occupied, and Mark Shenk has created a slide from an old combine machine.

Youngsters can climb the ladder leading to the cab and, inside, find a chute in the back of the machine that leads to the ground.

A straw mountain, a tractor-tire obstacle course and a magnificent sand pile are also available.

Families can pick up a pumpkin to take home for Halloween, but choosing one could be difficult. Pumpkins are offered for eating, and carving and decorating too.

“There are 50 varieties,” said Mark Shenk. “I didn’t know there were so many.”

Wayside Farms, at 5273 Harry Byrd Highway, will open its gates at 10 a.m. on Sept. 21. The corn maze will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the opening weekend and then from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Nov. 3.

— Contact Val Van Meter at vvanmeter@winchesterstar.com