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Jones County officials hoping maze is big draw for tourists

One a-maize-ing business

SANDERSVILLE — Located on Mississippi 11 just a few miles off of Interstate 59 is something, well, literally amazing. There, a corn maze is growing on five acres and two smaller “minute mazes” made of hay bales are to either side of the gigantic “maize maze.”

An aerial view of the gigantic cornfield maze reveals a mustang reared on his hind legs, the subject of the maze’s title: the “Wild West Maize Maze.”

The idea of putting a cornfield maze in Sandersville was Randy Gatlin’s and his friend and brother-in-law’s, Marty Blackledge.

“I told him I wanted to do some investigating,” Gatlin said.

The investigating led Gatlin and Blackledge through a slew of Web sites and finally to Adrian Fisher Mazes Ltd. of England. Fisher has been a maze designer for more than 30 years and designed the first cornfield maze in the U.S. in 1993 in Pennsylvania. His work appears around the world.

Gatlin said the first challenge of the maze was simply the decision to plunge ahead and do it. The next was the weather.

“Tropical Storm Allison dealt us a pretty good blow,” he said. Other than that, it was the heat that made building the maze almost unbearable.

When Gatlin and Blackledge decided to go ahead with the maze, Fisher sent the design and techniques. From there, they were on their own, with a little help from their family.

“The initial cutting out was 60 to 75 hours,” Gatlin recalled. Now that the maze is finished and open to the public though, the challenge is keeping it and the rest of the courtyard area maintained.

But the finished product has been one Gatlin and Blackledge have enjoyed, and they hope the public will enjoy it as well.

“We’re real proud,” Gatlin said. “Comparing it to other sites or pictures we’ve seen, I haven’t seen anywhere the design was more clear cut than ours was.”

Sandy Holifield, chamber director and tech park coordinator, said she has never seen anything like the Sandersville maze.

“We’re really lucky to have these visionaries,” she said of Gatlin and Blackledge. “It was a quick idea that grew into something monumental. It’s just great fun and family entertainment plus educational value for school kids. The only unfortunate thing is that it’s a short-lived thing.”

The Jones County maze is one of only several in the U.S. and Holifield is expecting a rush of tourism to the area on account of the maze.

“They’re working with the Mississippi Development Authority to help spread the word,” she said. “Because it’s such a short-lived project it’s something hard to work on this year, but they plan to do something next year and in future years.”

In addition to the mazes, Gatlin’s younger sister, Myra Patrick, owner of Buzzeria Pizza and Subs across from the maze, is offering deals on boxed lunches to groups who come to the maze. They also have T-shirts available this year.

“We really got caught blindsided with our time,” Gatlin said. “We have a lot of ideas and next year we’ll definitely be a lot bigger and better as far as souvenir shops and the permanency of it. We’re just going to really grow and expand, and we have some ideas we’re planning to throw in for next year as well.”

Next to the perfectly rectangular maze is a pumpkin patch on about four acres that Gatlin hopes will also draw tourists.

“We feel like we’re going to get a tremendous response from within the state and especially in the school systems,” he said. “We have mailed out close to 3,000 letters to schools within a 100-mile radius from here. That’s our primary target. I feel as more school groups come the general public will visit as well.”

For more information about the Jones County Wild West Maize Maze, call (601) 425-0077 or toll free at (888) 710-3419, or visit the Web site at www.sunsetmaze.com. The maze will be open through Oct. 31; afterward the corn will be harvested. The maze is open for reservations Monday through Friday and to the general public Thursday and Friday from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. until dark and Sunday from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.

Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at ekirkland@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1042.


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