Fall is upon us. The leaves are starting to turn, there’s a crispness in the air and you can finally start snuggling under the covers again. It’s always been my favorite time of year. Maybe it’s the start of the school year, the gorgeous colors or just that cozy feeling autumn brings. While some animals begin to think about hibernation, this is the season when I truly wake up, wanting to get out and do everything I can. Fall is also a time of tradition in our family – decorating the house, raking the leaves, evening walks. One of our favorite traditions is visiting the Rutledge Corn Maze in Tumwater. And, this year I have a new appreciation for this family fun outing.
Back in July, I had the privilege of seeing the corn maze from a new perspective – inside the cockpit of a helicopter almost 1,000 feet above the field. Although I am terrified of flying, I knew this was one experience I could not turn down. Robby Rutledge tells me for the past eighteen years they’ve been taking to the skies with Glacier Aviation to photograph their latest masterpiece, and this time I was lucky enough to tag along. “When we create a partnership with someone, we do it for the long haul,” explains Robby of the annual flight with Glacier Aviation. “We are very loyal and believe in the local community. We love to give back.”
It’s a community where many generations of Rutledges have grown up. “Our family migrated here across the Oregon Trail in the 1800’s and we’ve been farming in the area ever since. That’s the short version,” Robby says laughing. His grandfather was a cattleman and an employee at the Olympia Brewery. But, he quickly realized raising corn was much easier than raising cows. For thirty years, you could find Grandpa Rutledge selling his delicious golden ears of corn at the Olympia Farmers Market each late summer and early fall.
In 2000, the Rutledge family decided to try their hand at a corn maze, becoming one of the first corn mazes in the area and at the forefront of the corn maze trend throughout the country. They begin by cutting the designs into the fields after the corn had matured. However, after a few years, they decided to make a change.
“We were the first corn maze in the world to be planted in the maze pattern (instead of cutting the pattern after the stalks matured). They use a GPS and a laptop in the tractor,” says Robby of how the Rutledge maze is created. To plant their five-acre maze, the Rutledge family uses a national company called Maze Play who can get it done in roughly eight hours. “It’s really down to a science. Sometimes I don’t have the design down fully, maybe I only have a few pictures,” he explains of the process with Maze Play. “And the result is always ten times better than what I ever thought it would be.”
Themes over the years have included the Washington State Capitol Building, the Statute of Liberty, an image of Marshawn Lynch, a design based on Twilight – Breaking Dawn, a train, a firetruck, a pirate, and a design in partnership with O’Bee Credit Union. And, this year is looking to be one of the best ones yet.
The Rutledge family was excited to partner with Experience Olympia & Beyond – the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau – to create a corn maze in the design of the Thurston Bountiful Byway logo. “We’re trying to bring more attention to this wonderful sixty-mile stretch of farmers markets, wineries, farms and other great local attractions,” says Robby.
The Rutledge Corn Maze is just one stop on this scenic adventure tour right in our own backyard. Moira Davin, director of marketing and communications for Experience Olympia & Beyond, headed up the collaboration and sees the maze as the perfect way to interest people in the picturesque route – one they might know nothing about. “Featuring the Byway as the corn maze is a great way to spread the word about all the great fall events along the Bountiful Byway,” says Davin. “Families can share memorable moments while they pick a pumpkin, take a hay ride, sip award-winning apple cider or find their way through a corn maze.”
Throughout the maze, guests will find checkpoints highlighting different stopping points on the Byway. The checkpoints include facts and information about each stop as well. “It’s amazing how many people come to the farm each year and the kids have no idea how things in our world connect. Some kids don’t even know goats can produce milk,” shares Robby. “It’s all about educating the public.” And, this year that education includes a snapshot of the best of Thurston County with the Bountiful Byway highlights throughout.
Of course, a visit to Rutledge Corn Maze is also about fun. With recent additions including the Farmer Joe Mystery Game, Haunted Maze and Zombie Paintball, there’s something for everyone and every age.
“For me, it’s about meeting all the new people every season and knowing that we’re helping to create a family tradition for everyone. We have families that come back year after year and tell us how great it is,” Robby explains. And, hopefully the Bountiful Byway design will be a way to create even more traditions. With similar goals, both the Rutledge Corn Maze and the Bountiful Byway seek to create positive activities families can enjoy together, while getting out and supporting this great area we live in and the producers and artisans who make it so unique.
“We hope that the Byway corn maze will inspire visitors and locals to explore the other fall festivals along the tour, most not far from Rutledge, and experience all the Byway has to offer all year round,” adds Davin.
To learn about all the fun fall events along the Bountiful Byway in addition to the Rutledge Corn Maze, visit the Byway’s events page and wind your way through our beautiful backyard.