These days, you’ll find Sever’s Fall Festival on a 100-acre campus east of Highway 169, south of Shakopee — but it all started in Eden Prairie.
Sever Peterson III, a resident of Eden Prairie, and his wife, Sharon, still live on the farm in the Minnesota River valley where both Sever and his father were born.
In the mid-1990s, as they faced a struggling economy for their corn and soybean crops, “We were thinking, ‘What else could we do to keep our family involved in agriculture?’” Sever said.
The idea for a corn maze arose after the Petersons visited an exchange student’s family in England and observed hedge mazes in that country — although Sever notes he’d also seen hedge mazes in Laurel and Hardy films. What he hadn’t ever seen was a corn maze.
Nevertheless, he built one.
“The first year, it was a corn maze, and a corn maze only,” Sever said.
The attraction was located at the intersection of Anderson Lakes Parkway and Flying Cloud Drive, with a 10-by-10 tent at the entrance where the family sold cookies.
That first year, about 5,000 people passed through what had become Minnesota’s first corn maze, which had a T-Rex design theme. (Another corn maze had previously opened in Ohio, making Sever’s the second in the U.S.)
That was in 1997, and Sever’s Fall Festival, now celebrating its 25th year, has been open every year since.
“Now, the corn maze is probably the 10th most popular thing at the event,” Sever said. “Some people, there’s not time; they don’t get to the corn maze at all.”
The other activities include corn pits (think of a ball pit, only with dried kernels of corn), a giant slide, henna and face painting, food vendors, pig races, magic and wildlife shows, and more.
“The pumpkin cannon is very, very popular,” Sever said. Participants shoot mini pumpkins from a homemade air cannon and attempt to hit seven different bells. “It hits hard enough to make a big gong,” Sever said.
Adding all of these things takes room.
The event stayed at its Eden Prairie location for the first two or three years. Then, the family rented a 40-acre site adjacent to Canterbury Park from a Shakopee farmer. It moved to the present location in 2019, which also offered the opportunity to add additional winter events, like a drive-through holiday lights show.
During the 2020 season, the festival did not offer corn pits or hayrides — which still have not returned — and limited the number of attendees. However, “We were and are an outdoor event,” Sever said, which made it easier to continue during the Covid-19 pandemic.
For the Peterson family, the attraction is a year-round project.
“Even when the snow is falling, we’re planning, working on upgrades,” Sever said.
It’s a family affair, with daughter-in-law Nicola Peterson in charge of administration, son Aaron farming to raise pumpkins and other items sold at the event, son-in-law Mitch Michaelson in charge of setup and operations, and daughter Brooke Michaelson contributing as well. A grandchild came up with the 2021 corn maze theme of “Mythical Creatures.”
At age 77, Sever said, “I just have to be out here sitting on the tractor, doing things that need to be done” — like picking up trash.
For his family and for those who visit the attraction, he said, “We wanted something that could grow and expand. The goal for us is to have something for the entire family.”
At the current location, “There’s a lot of trees changing color, and it’s a beautiful location,” Sever said. “Minnesotans love our falls.”
Sever’s Fall Festival is open weekends through October, with additional hours on Thursday and Friday of MEA Weekend (Oct. 21 and 22). Tickets are only available online.
To purchase tickets or for additional information, visit www.seversfestivals.com.
Editor’s note: This story was independently researched and written without prior knowledge of advertising for Sever’s Fall Festival on the EPLN website.