Looking out my window, I can see the leaves beginning to change into brilliant colors of red, yellow, and gold. There’s something about the fall which fills my heart with joy and makes me want to take advantage of everything the season offers. Whether it’s crisp evening walks, carving pumpkins for Halloween, sipping apple cider or even raking fallen leaves, it’s a time of traditions. And, every year our family includes The Rutledge Corn Maze on our list of activities for fall and this year will be no exception.
It’s been more than a hundred years since the Rutledge family settled in Tumwater and began working the land. “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 Rutledge explains to me. Even one of the original homestead buildings still stands in Littlerock today. Originally, the family focused on raising cattle, but soon realized corn was a much easier prospect. In fact, for thirty years, their delicious golden ears were piled high for shoppers at the Olympia Farmers Market.
Now, the family uses that same corn field off 93rd Avenue for a different purpose – to provide a fun community activity and fall tradition. Although they still sell a bit of corn, in 2000 the Rutledge family decided to make the switch and convert most of their fields into a maze. It was a big leap as no one else was doing it at the time. Lucky for them it was a huge success. During the first several years, the family would grow a full field of corn. Then they would cut the maze designs into the stalks. This method took a lot of time and precision. So, when a new method presented itself Robby says they once again they took a chance.
“We were the first corn maze in the world to ever be planted directly into the field. They use a GPS and a laptop inside the tractor. They have it down to a science. Sometimes I don’t have the design down fully, maybe I only have a few pictures. Yet, it’s always ten times better than what I ever thought it would be when they are finished,” Robby shares. The maze is created in partnership with Maze Play and the five-acre design is completely planted in about eight hours each spring.
For this year’s maze, the Rutledge family collaborated with the Experience Olympia & Beyond, the Olympia, Lacey, Tunwater Visitor and Convention Bureau, to create a design focused on the Thurston Bountiful Byway logo. “We’re trying to really bring more attention to this wonderful sixty-mile stretch of farmers markets, wineries, farms and other great attractions,” says Robby. Past mazes have included images of the Capitol building, the Statute of Liberty, Marshawn Lynch, characters from Twilight-Breaking Dawn, a train, firetruck, pirate, and O’Bee Credit Union’s logo.
This year, I have a new appreciation for the maze as I had the opportunity to see the maze hovering in a helicopter almost one-thousand feet above it. Although I am terrified of flying, I knew I might never get to do something like this again. I climbed on board with a highly skilled pilot from Glacier Aviation. Robby explains they’ve been collaborating for the past eighteen years to view and photograph the maze. “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.”
It’s because of this love for the community that the Rutledge’s decided this year would focus on the Bountiful Byway, a great way for families to get to know the community around them. The Rutledge Corn Maze is just one great stop along the way, but director of marketing and communications for Experience Olympia & Beyond thinks it’s just the thing to peak some interest. “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. 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,” she says.
Visitors to the maze can explore different checkpoints along the way related to the Byway, which will have interesting facts and information about the Byway’s many highlights. For Robby, it’s just another way they can use the maze and farm to help educate the community. “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.” And this year, that education includes learning a bit more about the beauty and diversity of Thurston County through Byway information.
“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.