This year’s main corn maze attempts to do just that by recognizing the 100th anniversaries of the Girl Scouts organization as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Ocoee No. 1 dam with its theme “Celebrating 100 Years.” Both, he said, have had a big impact on the community.
Fetzer is a farmer. The 61-year-old Ocoee native works the land his father owned, growing corn, pumpkins, soybeans and wheat. His grandfather and great-grandfather farmed the land too. In fact, his family has been farming in the area since the 1800s. His family even owned some of the land that now lies at the bottom of Parksville Lake, the manmade lake formed during the construction of Ocoee Dam No. 1, which was completed in 1912.
The land on which the River Maze is located is the Fetzers’ personal family farm, Birchland Ocoee Farms.
“It’s a treasure we like to share,” Fetzer said.
In 2004, Fetzer and his wife, Dianne, decided they wanted to share their farm with the public and opened a corn maze. That first year, the couple designed the maze on their own. Dianne, a high school math teacher, used her math skills to make the design, and Joe harvested part of their corn crop to shape the maze. Since then, they have utilized the help of a company that regularly designs corn mazes.
Corn mazes were nothing new for Fetzer before the River Maze got its start. He laughed, recalling a time when he and his childhood friends would make their own mazes in corn fields by running and trampling down paths. He said the fields’ owners weren’t very happy with them.
Each year, Fetzer and his wife decide on themes for the mazes. Previous years have featured historical milestones and themes like one called “River Rocks” that gave a tongue-in-cheek look at a rock slide that occurred along the Ocoee Gorge in 2009.
The farm is home to two main mazes this year, a large corn maze and a smaller soybean maze. This year’s mazes feature the 100th anniversaries of Girl Scouting and the Ocoee No. 1 dam.
There is also a soybean maze featuring a cartoon character named Spookley the Square Pumpkin. The story goes that the unusual, square-shaped pumpkin is made fun of for being different until his shape helps him save the day.
Fetzer said the story and the soybean maze are both meant to have an anti-bullying message. The maze routinely hosts church groups, Scout groups and school groups, and he said he hopes children will leave with the message that they should not pick on others because they are different.
But his main priority, the one that inspired him to start the River Maze in the first place, is sharing historic milestones like this year’s 100th anniversaries.
“We feel like the whole region needs to celebrate and come to appreciate our own heritage,” Fetzer said.
Fetzer points out that some major historic happenings have happened near his farm. He said the Ocoee No. 1 dam was the very first hydroelectric dam built in Tennessee. He also pointed out that the rafting events of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games were the first to take place on a natural river bed and that the nearby Cherokee National Forest became the first and only national forest in the state of Tennessee when it was recognized as such in 1920.
“It’s seldom that you’ll find three such major changes in such a close area,” Fetzer said.
He added that Girl Scouts have also changed parts of the area for the better because of the organization’s commitment to service.
Fetzer values his mazes as a way to share the area’s history, but he also likes the idea of showing people how crops are grown because many do not get to see what their produce looks like before it hits store shelves. The farmer said the annual mazes are by no means his cash crops, but said he enjoys getting to share his farm with the public one season a year.
“There’s not a lot made out of it, but we get a lot of satisfaction out of sharing the heritage,” he said.
One can most easily see the design of the River Maze’s corn and soybean designs from the air. When Fetzer saw aerial views of this year’s finished mazes, making the short flight from Hardwick Field to his farm, he said it hit him how close together everything in Cleveland seemed to be from above.
“I think we need to realize how closely everyone is tied together,” he said.
The River Maze is located at 1371 Highway 64 in Ocoee, and is open Fridays 5 to 9:30 p.m., Saturdays 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Sundays 1 to 5 p.m. and by group appointments made by calling 423-650-0710.