Blossom Fest attracts plenty of sun and sunny faces

The weekend weather cooperated nicely for Blossom Fest 2002.

A chilly breeze blew throughout much of Saturday and Sunday, reminding festival-goers that winter is not so far gone. But the sun beamed down on the Hood River Valley both days, putting the blossoms -- and the myriad events taking place valley-wide -- in their best light.

Tour buses and cars full of visitors and locals made the rounds of the Fruit Loop. Crowds grew and thinned, then grew again on the lawn at the Mt. Hood Towne Hall Saturday as the local bluegrass band Wild River entertained.

The four members of the Blossom Festival Court dropped by the Towne Hall just after noon on their rounds of the valley. By mid-day Saturday, the girls had already done a lot of "wink and wave" duty, as Court ambassador Joyce Yang put it, but seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Meanwhile the Earth Day celebration downtown was a hub of activity all day. Booths lined the streets between Front and First, which were closed to traffic. Musicians and speakers took to the stage throughout the day, but the highlight was the Procession of the Species parade.

The parade, which made its way from Front Street up State to Fourth, then looped back on Oak Street, boasted more than 100 people in costumes and carrying artistic representations of endangered species.

A giant caterpillar making its way past the crowds along the parade route, along with butterflies and other creatures, were part of a Project P.M. program in Hood River County elementary schools. Through a partnership with Gorge Arts, local artists worked with students to design and make the costumes, and taught lessons about different species.

Other events around town included the Hood River Antique Show at the Expo Center and the All American Soap Box Derby Race on Columbia Avenue.

Sunday found another steady stream of visitors at local Blossom Festival hot spots. Roy and Virginia Seeley drove from Vancouver, Wash., to check out the festival. It was their first time at the event; they decided to make the trip after seeing something about Blossom Festival on Channel 8 News.

"We're really enjoying it," Virginia said, as she picked apples from Lew Merz's bins at the Blossom Craft Show at the Hood River County Fairgrounds. "I eat five apples a day and I'm just glad I can still find them."

Former orchardist Merz was trying out his new role as "fruit peddler," as he calls himself now. He had bins of apples and pears which he was selling for 30 cents a pound. He also was doing a brisk business giving samples of Hood River's famous fruit.

"I've learned so much about selling fruit," said Merz, who has been "peddling" at venues around the Mid-Columbia since September after he sold most of his orchards. One thing he learned over the weekend from a "busload of people from Portland," is that many people like their pears crunchy.

"And people love fruit," he said. "They just don't like it at 99 cents a pound." He said he'd set up his vending booth at the show mostly as "an experiment."

"It's been pretty steady," he said of the crowds.

Don and Joan Bilodeau and Joan's mother, Shirley Richey, were visiting from Portland, as they do every year for Blossom Festival.

"I think this is one of the most beautiful places in the state," Don said. He said he hopes one day to retire to the Hood River Valley, but in the meantime he soaks in as much as possible during Blossom Fest.

As if on cue, dark clouds began rolling over the valley late Sunday afternoon just as Blossom Festival was winding down. Wrap it up, they seemed to say. The show's over. For today at least.

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