Gear up for Skagit Valley’s annual festival
By Jeremy Schwartz
As northwest Washington emerges from a punishing winter, Mother Nature makes it evidently clear to Whatcom and Skagit county residents that she doesn’t take orders from anyone.
So instead of trying to fit nature into a predefined schedule, the organizers of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival have taken an event that spanned just one weekend in April 1983 and expanded it to fill the entire month in 2012. This expansion was done to ensure one thing: Everyone attending the festival will get the chance to see acres of tulips in bloom.
“When people come here, they will see tulips,” festival executive director Cindy Verge said.
Now in its 29th year, the tulip festival was the brainchild of Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce members who thought the Skagit Valley’s tulips ought to be exhibited. The first event was so successful it was expanded to 10 and later 17 days.
But even with the 17-day festival, the dates of which must be set a year in advance, the tulips would sometimes not bloom in time for attendees to enjoy them. To remedy this, the festival was expanded to the entire month of April in the early 2000s; a move Verge described as a way to work with rather than against Mother Nature.
“Mother Nature doesn’t really care when man has decided to set a date for a party,” Verge laughed.
The festival has grown by leaps and bounds since the first one. Between 300,000 and 400,000 people visit Skagit County each year to attend the festival, coming from all 50 states and 51 countries. The festival operates with an annual budget of $200,000, but economic studies have shown it can bring in as much as $14 million in tax and local business revenue.
Many local merchants say they depend on festival revenue to stay open during the spring. Verge has also heard testimonials from servers in town that tips received during the festival allow them to take a vacation.
“I’m really proud to know that there such tangible things that our valley gains from something that is so beautiful,” Verge said.
So, what exactly happens at the tulip festival? A quick glance at the events calendar posted on the festival’s website gives some clue.
Numerous events, including a salmon barbecue put on by the local Kiwanis group, arts shows and festivals, and bike, bus and helicopter tours are all scheduled in and around Mount Vernon and La Conner. Two of these events, the Tulip Run and Tulip Pedal, are staples of the festival and regularly draw hundreds of competitors (see sidebar for more information on the biking and running events during the festival).
Truly a community festival, most activities are sponsored by local groups, with festival organizers coordinating the efforts.
“The festival staff is the hub of a wagon wheel, and the spokes go out to all the different events and activities while the ground we’re built on is the tulips,” Verge said. “We have all these different events and activities that are courtesy of the great community that we have. We could not do it without all those wonderful people, and it becomes a true Skagit Valley festival.”
In addition to scheduled events and arts and crafts exhibitions, numerous wine, beer and food vendors set up special booths throughout Skagit County and often offer food and drink specialties only available during the festival.
Among new vendors this year is Viva Farms, a working organic farm and farm incubator that will be open to the public on weekends during the festival. Because so much of the attraction of the festival is the peaceful agricultural setting where the tulips are grown, organizers are looking for ways to involve other farming ventures, though this can be challenging since few crops are ready to exhibit in April.
Verge’s love of the tulips brought to her to work for the festival in the first place. She moved back to Skagit Valley with her husband at about the same time the festival started and always found herself drawn to the acres of tulips the festival had to offer.
“I just always loved the flowers,” Verge said, adding “I was also a tulip geek.”
After starting her youngest daughter in kindergarten, Verge applied for a job with the tulip festival and eventually was promoted to executive director. Meandering through the tulips fields with the April sun shining, especially after a particularly harsh winter, is still one of Verge’s favorite things, and she said she cannot think of a reason why anyone would not want to see the flowers.
“It’s truly a thing of beauty,” she said. “How often do you get the chance to see something so beautiful?” X
Where do the tulips come from?
In addition to the hundreds of acres of colorful fields throughout the area, two extensive gardens are open to the public for viewing and learning about tulips, daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs. Both gardens are on farms founded by Dutch immigrants who brought their love and knowledge of tulips to the Skagit Valley.
Roozengaarde Tulips and Bulbs, the retail division of the Washington Bulb Company, has acres of tulip and daffodil fields open to the public. Roozengarde ships 70 million cut flowers and tens of millions of bulbs every year all across the U.S. and Canada.
Roozengarde is open daily during the festival, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and also welcomes visitors year-round. Admission to the tulip fields is $5 for adults, $4 for military personnel with I.D. and free for children younger than 10 years of age. Roozengarde is located at 15867 Beaver Marsh Road in Mount Vernon. For more information, call 360/424-8531 or visit www.tulips.com.
Tulip Town Skagit Valley Bulb Farm features acres of tulips and the area’s only indoor tulip show. Tulip Town is also home to a number of vendors, including the Tulip Town Cafe, and features free trolley rides on Wednesdays during the festival.
Tulip Town is open daily in April from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission to the tulip fields is $5 for adults, $4 for military personnel with I.D. and free for children less than 16 years of age. Tulip Town is located at 15002 Bradshaw Road in Mount Vernon. For more information, call 360/4248152 or visit www.tuliptown.com.
Biking and running
If tip-toeing through the tulips isn’t quite your style, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival plays hosts to two well-attended events that are sure to get the blood pumping.
First up is the Tulip Run, enjoying its 27th year in 2012. Skagit Runners sponsors both the
5-mile and 2-mile run, which are slated for April 7.
The race starts at 9:30 a.m. at Van Zyverden Bulb, 12035 Higgins Aiport Way in Burlington. Pre-registration costs $22 and includes the 2012 Tulip Run T-shirt. Register online at www.tuliprun.com or in person at Skagit Running Company, 702 S. 1st Street in Mount Vernon.
Bike enthusiasts can join members of Skagit County Medic One for the 31st annual Tulip Pedal. Nearly 671 riders showed up last year for the event, which raises money for chilrdens’ bicycle safety information.
The race starts the morning of April 21 at the La Conner Middle School. Day-of registration for the 20, 40 and 60-mile races around the tulip fields will cost $35 while pre-registration by mail or online will cost $30. For more information, contact Tulip Pedal director Bill Ceraig at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.skagitems.com/safe-kids-skagit-county/annual-tulip-pedal.