Ocoee River Maze opens this weekend
To the naked eye, the Ocoee River Maze appears be just another corn maze. A closer look will tell you that owner Joe Fetzer's dedication, detailed planning and passion for storytelling has kept the maze a hot spot for Lee students and native Clevelanders alike during the fall season.
This Saturday, Sept. 26, the maze opens for the season. To celebrate, the maze is offering a 30 percent off discount for admission, bringing the price down to $7.
Located on Fetzer's visually breathtaking Birchland Ocoee Farms in Benton, Tennessee, this year's seasonal theme incorporates Cherokee legends Sequoyah and Nancy Ward into the corn maze's design, set against the backdrop of Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina's state outlines.
The three Cherokee tribes, Lord, Lower and Overhill, reside within these states. These early Cherokee settlements, such as Tanasi, gave birth to the state of Tennessee.
The Three Sisters soybean maze, representative of the food which helped sustain the Cherokee during long winters, creates an alternative option for children.
As participants navigate the corn maze, they must complete ten checkpoints which solves the puzzle of 'Seqouyah's Secret Message' using their phones.
Fetzer described the significance of Seqouyah's contributions to the Cherokee nation, 65 percent of the Cherokee in the Red Clay region were able to understand the Cherokee alphabet which he devised.
While students can also enjoy hayrides, pumpkin patches, concessions, hiking trails and a petting zoo, Fetzer primarily hopes to utilize the maze as a ministry outreach, as well as a tool in connecting Lee students to Cleveland's rich historical past.
'Part of our passions and desires is to see church groups and Lee University students come out to the maze,' Fetzer said. 'I feel like it has a unique meaning that they [Lee students] can come to such a historic place in the area that they're going to school for four or five years. This is an area that is a meaningful part of their lives.'
Fetzer, a descendant from a long line of farmers, spends the off-season developing business plans with entities such as the Tennessee Agriculture Association [TAA] and growing crops such as corns, melons, sweet corn and soybeans. As an agriculturally-based industry, Fetzer believes the corn maze directly impacts visitor's relationships with the land itself.
'Agritourism is something that has developed and it's getting larger and larger,' Fetzer said. 'People have gotten away from their roots on the farms that their ancestors had. And agritourism has developed as a way for people to connect on the farm and see where their food comes from.'
In 1998, Fetzer and his wife, Dianne, spent an afternoon at the Indiana State Fair, and became inspired to create a corn maze of their own. Partnered with the TAA and various other committees, Dianne Fetzer has learned the art of maintaining a thriving business.
'Managing a corn maze requires a lot of preparation and organization. It requires being able to switch roles from worker to boss at any given moment,' Fetzer said. 'It has also taught me that family is important and my husband and I really want to make our place [somewhere] visitors feel welcome and can enjoy themselves out in God's big creation.'
Senior Libi Halperin was particularly impressed by her experience at the maze during her freshman year.
'My girls' dorm paired up with another boys' dorm for a nice fun fall activity,' Halperin said. 'It was specifically fun for new students to get to know each other and it's cool that their purpose is to cultivate community. It provides a natural, free-flowing atmosphere.'
Click here for more information about the River Maze.