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Corn maze draws visitors to community

Even though high winds and flood waters brought on by HurricaneGustav ruined about two acres of the Hodge family’s corn maze onMelvin Mason Road in southern Lincoln County, elementary schoolclasses and church youth groups are still flocking to the field -and officials are taking notice.

Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce Program DirectorKay Burton, following up on last week’s agritourism workshop,visited the maze Wednesday for “a little discovery” to help her infuture efforts to market such attractions and draw more visitors toLincoln County.

“This is the kind of thing we’re looking to promote in LincolnCounty,” she said. “It’s already successful on a small scale.”

Burton said the chamber would be looking to promote agritourismattractions locally through the Brookhaven Retiree/TourismCommittee and the Miss-Lou Rural Tourism Association, a jointventure between 33 Mississippi and Louisiana counties and parishesof which Burton is a board member.

Agritourism will be a nice addition to the county’s existingtourist attractions, fitting well into the “mom and pop”atmosphere, Burton said.

“Most people don’t live in rural areas like we do – they live inlarge, urban areas and a lot of the smaller, private enterpriseslike this are what they come to see,” she said. “People from thecities will come a long way to romp out in the cornfield for a day.The more of these enterprises we have, the more groups we can bringin – and that’s money that filters down into your economy.”

Lincoln County Extension Director Rebecca Bates said the word isout on the development of agritourism – especially after lastweek’s workshop. She said there were 32 landowners that expressedinterest in creating their own trail rides, farm tours and feefishing and hunting.

“I believe we’ll start seeing more things develop next spring,”Bates said. “Once other landowners see things start happening inthe county, we’ll see the possibility of the industry growing.”

Right now, the Hodge family’s corn maze is the industry. Andeven though the battered corn stalks are beginning to wilt and thinout – the Hodges say the maze will be cut down in early November -the corn maze is still effective.

Landowner Donna Hodge said she and her husband, Don, haveimplemented new activities at the maze – like a “cornbox” full ofkernels and toys and pumpkin decorations – to spice things up.

Hodge said she has approximately seven groups scheduled to visitthe maze over the next three weeks, and between 14 and 20 groupswill have toured it before the corn is cut.

She estimated that more than 500 people have already visited themaze in its six weeks of operation.

At $5 per head, the Hodges have made at least $2,500 for lessthan two months’ work. That number could double before theattraction ends for the year.

Hodge said the revenue from the corn maze isn’t enough to retireon, but she has so far been able to cover the expenses that wentinto shaping and running the maze, and will likely turn a profit inthe end.

“We didn’t initially do it for supplemental income, but it’sbeen worth it for us,” she said. “Our biggest thing was if we’vegot this place right here, then nobody has to drive far off to havea good time.”

Hodge said the corn maze would definitely be back next year. TheHodges plan to plant the corn later, research different types ofcorn to plant and “pray that we don’t have a hurricane nextyear.”

The Hodges may also consider opening new agritourism attractionson their farm.

“I think next year for sure we’re going to jump in and see whatwe can do different,” Hodge said. “We’ve not seen anyone, from3-year-olds to senior adults, come out yet that didn’t have a goodtime.”