Feeling slighted, TDA yanks grant

Farmer Skipper Russell thought he was helping drive tourism with his famous corn “maize,” an agricultural attraction he operates each fall in Bethel. After all, the maze attracted nearly 7,000 visitors this year, many from out of town, who came to wander through the series of intricate paths cut into his corn field.

But the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority, which promised Russell $3,000 to advertise the attraction says Russell didn’t follow the guidelines associated with the money — so he won’t be getting any of it.

The tourism authority says Russell failed to list them as a sponsor on any of his advertising, be it billboards or brochures. That’s a stipulation the TDA makes to anyone it doles out money to: receive TDA dollars, and TDA better get some recognition.

Russell admits he failed to read the fine print and accepts responsibility for what he says was an innocent mistake. TDA officials brought the mistake to his attention in December, after the maze had closed for the season.

“It was just an oversight I made. I guess I just overlooked that,” he said.

TDA’s refusal to refund the $3,000 is a blow to Russell, who spent more than $8,000 on advertising for the corn maze. The blow stings even more because Russell made a special effort this year to use his attraction to highlight Haywood County. The corn maze featured a bicentennial theme in honor of the county’s year-long celebration to honor its 200th year.

Russell accepts the TDA’s decision, though as a farmer struggling after a particularly bad season, the loss of $3,000 will make finances tighter.

“Well, I’ll have to be OK with it,” he said.

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