Missoula's Amazing Maze

What could a struggling church school do to stir up interest in a community that hardly knew it was there? How could it impact its neighborhood with a service building bridges and creating opportunities to witness? These were among the questions asked by school-board members of Mountain View Elementary School in Missoula, Mont., as they prayerfully wrestled with the challenge of impacting their community for Christ.

One unique solution came in a young couple's innovative idea to use the school's property to create a hay maze. The first event was constructed during the fall of 2009.

This past fall, thousands of people from Missoula and surrounding areas visited the school. They came to get lost in Montana's best corn and hay bale maze created from 600 large hay bales and a cornfield.

The visitors used self-guided tour sheets and answered questions to find clues to the right path. There were questions on castle architecture, medieval life, and even the Bible. What was the first book to be printed on a printing press? It wasn't The Swiss Family Robinson. If you chose that answer, you found yourself in a dead end.

With almost a mile of pathways to navigate, the maze took most people 20–40 minutes to solve. Everyone had their favorite maze feature with several to choose from. There was the observation deck for the bird's eye view, the tunnel, the reverse spiral and the hurricane spiral — the most challenging spot in the maze. Everyone got lost there, including Earl Ellingson, maze creator and an elder of the Missoula Church.

While at Colorado State University, Ellingson and his wife, Christina, visited a corn maze. After moving to Missoula and discovering the closest maze was more than an hour away (and haunted for the Halloween season) Ellingson dreamed of providing an alternative fun fall activity for families.

In 2009, the maze saw 3,700 visitors. In 2010, with the sunny October weather, 1,300 people came out on one Sunday alone. Children and adults alike usually emerged from the maze smiling and laughing. Then they raced over the obstacle course or went to the petting zoo to enjoy goats, rabbits, chickens, sheep and ponies. Numerous school classes, birthday parties, Girl Scout troops and other groups visited and played. The total number of visitors for the season this year was 10,600.

And they all now know just where to find the local Adventist school.

February 01, 2011 / Montana Conference
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