While many people chose to head indoors this time of year, I’m someone who likes to embrace the fall season with beautiful colors, falling leaves, cooler temperatures, and family traditions. I actually find it’s the perfect time to get outside and see all our area has to offer. One of my must sees every year is the Rutledge Corn Maze in Tumwater, just south of the Olympia Airport. In fact it’s at the top of my list for a number of reasons. However, a recent adventure has given me a new appreciation for the annual autumn event.
Over the summer I got to take a once in a lifetime flight on a little four-seater helicopter to see this year’s maze design from high above. Now if I’m being totally honest, I tried to get someone else to do it because I hate flying, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. Robby Rutledge tells me every year they take to the skies to photograph their corn maze with the help of Glacier Aviation. It’s a collaboration dating back 18 years. “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,” Robby says.
Long time residents of the Tumwater area, the Rutledge Family is one that is well known. “Our family migrated over here across the Oregon Trail in the 1800’s and we have been farming in the area ever since. That’s the short version,” Robby says laughing. In the beginning, his grandfather focused on raising cattle, while also working his job at the Olympia Brewery. However, he quickly discovered there was more money in growing corn, and it wasn’t as time consuming. So for 30 years you could find him down at the Olympia Farmers Market selling delicious ears.
The family didn’t make the decision to create an actual corn maze until 2000, becoming one of the first in the county to create a design. In the beginning, designs were cut into the corn after it was planted, but it took a lot of time and work hours. So when a new method came about Rutledge decided to give it a try.
Robby tells me, “We were the first corn maze in the world to ever be planted in. They use a GPS and a laptop in the tractor.” Maze Play, a national company, actually plants the entire five-acre maze in 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. And it’s always ten times better than what I ever thought it would be,” Robby adds.
Each year the family comes up with a new design to plant. Previous mazes have included designs of the Capitol Building, the Statute of Liberty, an image of Marshawn Lynch, Twilight Breaking Dawn, a train, a firetruck, a pirate, and the logo for O’Bee Credit Union. In 2017, the corn maze is a partnerhsip with Experience Olympia & Beyond – the Olympia-Lacey-Tumwater Visitor and Convention Bureau – focused around the Bountiful Byway. And Robby couldn’t be happier. “We’re trying to really bring more attention to this wonderful 60 mile stretch of farmers markets, wineries, farms, and other great stuff.”
Not only does this great community adventure tour include the Rutledge Corn Maze, but also many other great local businesses. Moira Davin, director of marketing and communications for Experience Olympia & Beyond, explains how they hope the maze will just be the starting point for people. “Featuring the Bountiful 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,” Moira shares.
Once inside the maze visitors will find checkpoints that highlight interesting facts and information about the Bountiful Byway. Robby says he sees it as a great way to learn something, but also just a way to have a lot of 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.”
It’s these same visitors that keep Robby excited about his corn maze and why they do it every fall. “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.” With the Bountiful Byway represented this year, Moira sees it as an opportunity to create some new family traditions as well. “We hope that the Bountiful 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 year round.”
The Rutledge Corn Maze also offers a haunted maze, zombie paintball, and a pumpkin patch.
Rutledge Corn Maze
302-93rd Ave SE in Olympia
Hours: Sunday – Thursday from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – midnight