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JAUNTS: in and around the Valley

Doing a Good Turn

Moorpark Rotary's giant maze of doors poses unique Halloween fund-raising challenge.

October 15, 1998|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On the outskirts of Moorpark's Tierra Rejada Ranch--past the produce stand, the pumpkin patch and the apricot trees--something bizarre, truly twisted, is sprouting on 3 1/2 acres.

It's a gigantic maze, with nearly two miles of winding paths. But this is no maize maze. Amazingly, it's built from hundreds of old garage doors.

This lulu of a labyrinth is the brainchild of the Moorpark Rotary Club, which expects to have it finished and open to the public weekends through Halloween, starting Friday. A shot at navigating this garage-door jungle will cost $6.

"To our knowledge, there's never been anything like it of this magnitude in Southern California," said Steve Sill, Rotary president. "The thing is awesome. It's very challenging."

In farming circles, mazes are a cash crop these days. In Wisconsin, a farmer hired a British maze expert to plot out a 10-acre corn maze that so far has pulled in more than 25,000 paying tourists who want a crack at figuring out the correct route.

"Originally, we wanted to do a corn maze," said Moorpark Rotarian John Lepper, who visited the Wisconsin maze last summer. "But it started to get real expensive, real fast."

So when they learned garage-door companies had a surplus of old doors, they revised their plan.

"We've been calling all over Southern California, scrounging used doors," Lepper said. Of the 200 or so doors they figured they needed, they had accumulated 130 a week ago as they scrambled to finish the maze. They were filling in gaps with corn stalks, black plastic and whatever else they could find.

The design isn't a haphazard doodle. Lepper sought help from the University of Illinois' maze Web site. Then, using computer graphics software, he adapted it to fit an abandoned walnut grove, offered by fellow Rotarian Rick Brecunier, owner of Tierra Rejada Ranch.

Walnuts crunched under foot as workers hoisted garage door after garage door against the 90 or so 40-year-old walnut trees last week. It was almost a surrealistic sight--beat-up garage doors of all sizes and colors, some with street numbers, a couple with pet doors, and not a few bearing sure signs of a good bashing. Brecunier put his ranch crews to work on this bizarre project whenever they had downtime.

"They're probably thinking, 'What's he up to now?'," Brecunier laughed. Comparison to the baseball diamond in the movie "Field of Dreams" is inevitable. And, spinning off the film, Brecunier joked, "We'll build it and they will come."

He hopes, anyway. This sort of field of screams is a Halloween fund-raiser for the club, but it won't be any scary blood-and-guts adventure.

"It's not at all like going to a haunted house," Sill said. Oh, they'll use some special effects in the maze--a fog machine and strobe lights for atmosphere.

But Rotary members say there will be plenty of thrills for those who seek a challenge. Even with an unerring sense of direction, it takes 20 minutes just to navigate the most direct route, they say.

There are four correct paths, with one entrance and one exit. At the Wisconsin maze, the record so far is 45 minutes, and maze-goers have been known to spend up to four hours wandering around.

But those who are directionally challenged shouldn't worry. They can raise a little flag and help will be on the way. Rotarians will be stationed in trees to watch for distress signals.

Lepper has only one word for those who think they can dash through in a few minutes: "Wrong!"

For those who still pooh-pooh it, he advises, "If you think you're smart during the day, come back at night."

BE THERE

Moorpark Rotary's Fall Festival features the "Monster Maze" at Tierra Rejada Ranch, 3370 Moorpark Road., with food and craft vendors and entertainment. Hours: Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Oct. 23, 24, 25, 30, 31. Fridays, 5-10 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sundays, noon-8 p.m. Information: (805) 371-1495.

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