Northwest NEWS

March 26, 2001


Spectacular tulips and Cascadia's Spectacular Events tour

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Tulips in brilliant colors or in soft pastels, some flamboyantly striped, are preparing to blast on the scene in the Skagit Valley next month. With fields of scarlet red, burnt orange, golden yellow, violet-purple and pale pink, the valley will transform into a striking patchwork of blooming flowers in time for the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. "There's no way the pictures do it justice," said Cindy Verge, Sponsorship Coordinator.
   Three hundred thousand to 500,000 visitors will trek to the area to experience the beauty first-hand. From the dark purple Merry Widow tulip with white trim to the white Skagit Valley tulip with fancy purple edging, the tulipfest will showcase tulips in every variety April 6-22.
   There are 1,500 acres of flower bulbs with 700 dedicated to tulips. And according to Verge, "The fields will be absolutely gorgeous."
   With so many tulips, cameras will have little rest. Visitors will photograph the flowers from every angle. Besides tulip-admiring, there will be plenty of other events, including tulip picnics, a pet parade and an organized bike ride through tulip fields. Among some of the new events for this year's festival are concerts by Skagit Symphony and Cascade Cantabile Choral group, a walking tour of Sedro Woolley featuring local history and wood carvings, and a tulip lecture series with Jennifer Louden, author of "The Comfort Queen."
   Northshore residents will have a special opportunity to tour the fields. Available through the Spectacular Events program with Cascadia College, the tour is available to those who register for the Skagit Spring Magic Tulipfest event for Saturday, April 7. After enrolling, registrants will meet at the Canyon Park Park & Ride to catch a bus to the festival. Once on board, Director Don Christensen will give a lecture on tulips and Skagit Valley growers. The group will see two or three fields in the morning, eat lunch together and then spend some time on their own touring and shopping in LaConner. "We'll hit one or two more fields on the way out," said Christensen. He said the group will definitely visit a select destination. "One of my favorites is West Shore," he said. "That's a really nice place. The tulips are arranged nicely in the gardens there."
   The Spectacular Events program is the brainchild of Sharon Carpenter, Dean of Continuing Education at Bellevue Community College.
   Carpenter attended a similar program in Illinois and was inspired to start one on the Eastside. In addition, Christensen had been teaching a weekly Arts Exploration for Singles course.
   Carpenter and Christensen put their ideas together and collaborated to develop a lineup of non-credit mini-courses highlighting popular events with an educational enrichment component. Currently listed in the Spring 2001 schedule for both Cascadia and Bellevue Community College, the Tulipfest event and is one of many being offered this quarter. Other events range from an Oregon wineries tour to a weekend Vancouver adventure featuring museums, parks, an art gallery and "Mozart's Magic Flute" at the Queen Elizabeth Theater.
   "I try to find things that would be popular," said Christensen. "But not the things people would readily go to themselves."
   The program, he said, is based on the premise that people on the Eastside will go to fun and interesting events if they can avoid traffic congestion and parking problems. Seniors and singles don't like to park on darkened streets, Christensen said.
   The program offers other advantages besides the safety factor. People enjoy the educational lectures which Christensen prepares with a lot of research beforehand. They also appreciate the companionship the program offers.
   "People do meet and make friends," said Christensen.
   The planting of the tulip fields near LaConner began almost a century ago. In 1906 Mary Brown Stewart began growing a few bulbs from Holland in the Skagit Valley.
   When she saw the successful outcome, she added additional bulbs and from there started a mail order business. Garden clubs in New England sent in big orders. In 1926, an embargo was placed on bulb imports by the federal government. Bulb growers in Holland sent family members to the United States to establish bulb farms. The Dutch soon discovered the Skagit Valley's ideal tulip conditions with its mild climate, evenly distributed rainfall and fertile farmlands. In 1984, the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce inaugurated the Tulip Festival. Soon people were coming by the thousands to view what the Chamber touted as "the colors that resembled an explosion in a paint factory." The Tulip Festival broke off from the Chamber of Commerce and became an entity on its own in 1994.
   For further information about the Spectacular Events Tulipfest tour, call Cascadia at (425) 352-8860. The cost is $69 and the hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The program is open to everyone of all ages.
   For those choosing not to take the Cascadia tour, but want to see the tulips and avoid parking difficulties, transit will be available at the Fred Meyer store or the Prime Outlets store in Burlington.
   From there, busses will escort visitors through the tulip route. Bus runs begin at 9 a.m. on weekends at both stores. On weekdays, the buses will leave the Prime Outlets store only.
   The cost is $3 per person or $10 for groups of four. For further information or for directions, call (360) 428-5959 or visit