Autum fellowship

Praise at the Maze brings youth to farm for spirited worship, fun

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By Tony Karnowski
For Blount Today

Bob Schmidt is used to accidents becoming success stories. It happened with an early pumpkin planting and now is happening with praise and worship.

Schmidt, owner of Maple Lane Farms, has turned visits from church youth groups into an organized Wednesday night event at his Corn Maze in Greenback.

Schmidt says praise and worship groups from Blount County churches are performing at the maze on Wednesdays. This gives them a chance to spread their message to groups outside of their normal congregation, he says.

Schmidt says he got the idea after realizing many of Blount County’s youth groups were already coming out to enjoy the wholesome, family atmosphere of Maple Lane Farms. With so many area churches already taking advantage of the maze, taking it to the next step seemed only logical.

"We made calls to some of the local churches," he says, "and they literally just took the ball and ran with it."

The first night of the series was hosted by First Baptist Alcoa. Youth Leader Kevin Rogers says the FBA youth had already been coming to the maze for years when they were approached about participating in Praise at the Maze.

"They knew we had been coming for the last four or five years," he says. "They called and asked if we would be interested in having our band come out and perform our usual routine. And of course we were perfectly fine with that."

Members of the youth group were glad to have the opportunity to be outside on an ideal autumn evening. After a long time spent trying to find their way out of the maze, Emily and Abigail Walker say they were looking forward to hearing FBA’s Youth Praise Band perform.

Abigail says, "It’s a fun time, and it’s nice to have our youth meeting outside." Leslie Thomlin, a member of First Baptist Alcoa’s congregation and the wife of its new pastor, says she was thankful for the opportunity to be out in the community.

"It’s great to be able to share an experience like this with people who aren’t members of our church," she says.

Also in attendance on Praise at the Maze’s first night were members of the Carpenter’s Campground United Methodist Church youth group. While not taking part in an official capacity, the youth group saw it as an opportunity to have some fun while interacting with other local youth organizations.

"(Praise at the Maze) has been really successful," Schmidt says. "A lot of people have really been looking forward to it, and I’m glad we’re able to offer our services to the local churches."

By blending family-oriented activities with spiritual music, Maple Lane Farms has created an experience that is unique to Blount County, he says.

Schmidt says the farm’s family-oriented approach not only paved the road to starting Praise at the Maze, it also contributed to the farm’s overall success. Schmidt says having large crowds at the farm was almost an accident.

"I wonder how many businesses in America were started by mistake," Schmidt says. In 1992, he made the mistake of planting his pumpkins early. Eight years later Maple Lane Farms is a staple of autumn in Blount County, he says.

"We started as just a pick-your-own pumpkin patch," Schmidt says. But after word-of-mouth helped make the business successful, the farm started receiving a bit of attention from local media. Just after that, Schmidt says, he started getting phone calls. Local schools wanted to set up field trips, and soon the children had their parents wanting to come out as well.

On the weekends, Blount County residents would come out to peruse the crop of soon-to-be Jack O’ Lanterns while Schmidt cooked hotdogs for everyone.

"After a few years," Schmidt says, "the business got bigger than anyone expected. I started to think: What if we could get one of those corn mazes? It would be great if families could come out and make a day of the experience."

Soon after, Schmidt fell in with a company based out of Salt Lake City that had just what he needed to make the dream a reality. He now utilizes their computer software to create the elaborate, eight-acre mazes that have become an important part of fall to many Blount County residents.

"We love being part of this community," Schmidt says. "This is a family business. My parents, Albert and Shirley, are here every day helping out, and we love sharing our farm. When people come out and have a good time, we have a good time. Our whole goal is to provide a quality family outing and to let families come and make this feel like their farm for the day."

For more information about Maple Lane Farms, including the Haunted Maze that runs from October 20th till Halloween, visit
their website at: maplelanefarms.com.

© 2006 blounttoday.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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