When the leaves begin to turn and the air grows colder, something seems to awaken inside of me. Instead of going into hibernation mode, I discover a new energy and zest for life. With this comes the urgency to make the most out of my favorite season – fall. Whether it’s raking leaves, carving pumpkins, decorating the house or just enjoying some warm apple cider, it’s the perfect time of year to make memories and create traditions. One I make sure to include every year is visiting the Rutledge Corn Maze, just south of Tumwater, with my family. Full of great activities for everyone, it’s a must on our to-do list.
This year will be even more special because this past summer I got the opportunity of a lifetime. The Rutledge family invited me to take a tour of this year’s maze, only this time from 1,000 feet above in a helicopter. Now, to be honest, the idea terrified me. I hate to fly. However, I knew I couldn’t pass this one up.
It’s not the first time they’ve taken to the skies to view their maze, Robby Rutledge tells me. In fact, Glacier Aviation has been doing this collaboration for the past eighteen years. Robby adds, “When we create a partnership with someone, we do it for the long haul. We are very loyal and believe in the local community. We love to give back.”
For many generations the Rutledge family has been in the Tumwater area, Robby shares with me. “Our family migrated over here across the Oregon Trail in the 1800s and we’ve been farming in the area ever since. That’s the short version,” he says with a laugh. Grandpa Rutledge originally focused on cattle, while also working at the Olympia Brewery. However, it soon became apparent that corn was going to be much easier than cows. At the Olympia Farmers Market you could find him selling his delicious corn.
It wasn’t until 2000, however, that the family got into the corn maze business, becoming one of the first in the area and even the entire country. Originally, the designs were cut into the corn after it had matured but when a new method took shape, they took a chance. Robby explains, “We were the first corn maze in the world to ever be planted in. They use a GPS and a laptop in the tractor.” A national company called Maze Play gets their five acre maze done in roughly eight hours time. “It’s really down to a science. Sometimes I don’t have the design down fully, maybe I only have a few pictures. And it’s always ten times better than what I ever thought it would be,” Robby tells me.
Throughout the years, the Rutledge family has created a variety of different mazes including the Capitol Building, the Statute of Liberty, an image of Marshawn Lynch, Twilight Breaking Dawn, a train, a firetruck, a pirate and O’Bee Credit Union. 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. According to Robby, “We’re trying to really bring more attention to this wonderful 60 mile stretch of farmers markets, wineries, farms and other great stuff.”
This scenic adventure tour includes not only the Rutledge Corn Maze, but also many other great stops along the way. Moira Davin, director of marketing and communications for Experience Olympia & Beyond, tells me they see the maze as the perfect jumping off point to get people excited. “Featuring the Bountiful Byway as the corn maze is a great way to spread the word about all the great fall events along the Byway. 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,” Moira tells me.
While at the maze, make sure and look for all the different checkpoints along the way, which highlight different aspects of the Bountiful Byway. Loaded with facts and information, Robby says it’s a great way for people to learn something while having fun. “It’s amazing to me every year how many people come to the farm and the kids have no idea how things connect. Some kids don’t even know goats can produce milk. It’s all about educating the public.”
Robby explains what keeps him motivated year after year is the customers he gets to interact with. “For me it’s just getting to meet 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.”
This year with the Bountiful Byway at the forefront, it will be a new way to create even more family traditions. “We hope that the Byway corn maze will inspire visitors and locals to explore the other fall festivals along the tour, not far from Rutledge, and experience all the Byway has to offer all year round,” Moira explains. Because both the Rutledge Corn Maze and the Byway encourage families to get out and enjoy our local treasures, it really is a match made in heaven.