Lifelong citizens of northern Orange County have likely heard of the McKee family. Generations of McKees have lived at 5011 Kiger Road in Rougemont, farming and growing tobacco, for hundreds of years.
But in 2001, while facing challenges of growing and selling their main agricultural product, Vickie McKee and her husband decided that they needed to diversify their farm. They attended an agro-tourism meeting in southeastern North Carolina, and around that time, husband and wife decided to create their cornfield maze.
“It was just a whole new adventure for us,” Vickie said.
Eighteen years later, the couple has not looked back on the start of their adventure. The McKee Cornfield Maze has become a popular local attraction in northern Orange County, with activities that are geared toward family fun and group outings for social events. This year, the McKee Cornfield Maze opened to the public on Sept. 28 and will stay in business through Nov. 3. The hours of operation are Friday, 3 to 8 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 7 p.m.
The cornfield maze has evolved over time, with changing technology aiding the McKees along the way. In 2001, the first year the family showed off its maze, there was a free cut design in the maze. Since then, the McKees have chosen different designs, which they call “Art in the Field.”
The designs are created in a computer program called Autocat, and then plotted into the field through a GPS system.
“With the GPS system, flags are set which are coordinates for your pattern,” Vickie explained. “Once those flags are set, we go in with mowers and maps and it’s a big connect the dots to get the pattern on the ground.”
At first, the McKee family hired a local pilot and photographer to take pictures of the field to ensure that the designs looked correct. Now, the McKees use a drone to take overhead shots of their maze each year.
The 12-acre maze is not the only attraction that has made the McKee farm a popular spot for not just families, but church congregations and corporate groups looking for team-building activities. The farm also has an interactive children’s cornfield maze that allows kids to follow the letters of the alphabet to find their way out. Not to mention barrel train rides, play areas, games of cornhole, hayrides, a party and gathering venue, a pumpkin field, farm animals, and plenty of photo opportunities for visitors. Perhaps most importantly, the farm has an annual breast cancer awareness day that took place this past weekend to honor those who have fought against breast cancer including Vickie’s best friend, Maple View Farm co-founder Muffin Nutter Brosig, who lost her battle to the disease.
As the McKee family farm has changed over time, Vickie and her husband have made sure to keep their prices to a minimum, while adding and modifying their attractions. Last year, the family had a movie night, and the event makes another return for 2019. On Oct. 26, Vickie encourages visitors to come watch Hocus Pocus, a Halloween classic, under the stars. Food will be available and children are encouraged to wear their favorite costumes as a prelude for Halloween.
In addition to the movie night, the McKees have also added another activity this year—a giant slide.
With attractions that are popular in the community, some proprietors would likely hesitate to add new activities in the fear of messing with a good thing. Yet Vickie feels that it is important for the McKee farm to evolve over time to ensure that visitors return.
“Well, you look for just different opportunities and you want to just sort of change things up so that your customers come back, and it grows with word of mouth,” Vickie said.
Vickie enjoys many aspects of running the family farm, but perhaps what she enjoys the most is getting to interact with the visitors from around the world.
“I enjoy meeting people,” Vickie said. “I think it’s been a great opportunity for us and for our family. You have people from, even international students who come, so it’s always fun to talk to them, to learn other cultures, and meet the people that come.”