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A Hood River tradition

20th annual Harvest Fest this weekend

Hood River has received a lot of attention in recent years for the exciting growth of windsurfing and recreation in the Columbia River Gorge. But long before the first windsurfer set out to challenge the wind and waves of the river, Hood River already had a worldwide reputation for excellence of another kind. The Hood River Valley is one of the best fruit growing areas on earth — and is one of the largest pear producers in the world.

One of the Northwest’s most popular and colorful autumn events, the Hood River Valley Harvest Fest, celebrates the fall harvest, this year in its 20th edition. More than 25,000 people attended the 2001 festival, enjoying fresh fruit, excellent food, wine, arts and crafts, entertainment, the famous Harvest Quilt Raffle and all the other delights that make up the annual Harvest Fest.

This year, organizers anticipate at least that number of visitors to stream into the Hood River Valley once again for the three-day event which starts Friday. The number could even go higher due to stepped up marketing efforts by the Hood River County Chamber of Commerce — particularly in the Portland metro area.

“We cut out advertising that didn’t work last year,” said Genevieve Scholl, public affairs marketing director for the chamber — mostly radio ads in the Portland metro area. “We’ve expanded our ads in Portland metro area newspapers,” she said. Along with ads running in The Oregonian and the The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., the chamber has tapped smaller community newspapers in the metro area as well.

Visitors won’t be disappointed with the array of vendors scheduled at the Hood River Expo Center. Along with some “old favorites,” according to Scholl — like Monica Halici’s Hood River Apple Nachos and the bonzai trees offered by Hank Kaihara — there will be several new vendors this year.

“We’ve got a couple of new hot food vendors,” Scholl said. Lucinda Green of the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs will be cooking Indian fry bread and fresh salmon in teepees set up at the Expo Center. Also, a new fish-and-chips vendor, Just for the Halibut, will be making its debut.

Other new attractions this year include “fizzy fruit” from Alice’s Orchards — a fruit candy — and Benjamin Orchards’ Hood River Dry Fruit.

A new craft vendor, Coco Creative, will be selling its eclectic handbags and purses. Some Fun Kalimbas will be returning this year after a year’s absence. The instrument maker had a popular booth for several years before taking last year off.

Another subtle shift this year is the chamber’s effort to tie together the multitude of events going on around the valley.

Last year was the first time the chamber printed a driving map and brochure with several events going on during Harvest Festival weekend. The effort has been expanded this year with 10,000 copies of “Harvest Time” printed and distributed around the valley as well as in the Portland area.

The brochure and map highlights no fewer than 16 events happening this weekend, including the Gorge Fruit and Craft Fair at the Hood River County Fairgrounds, the Parkdale Autumn Festival, Pumpkin Funland at Rasmussen Farms and the Hood River Downtown Business Association’s sidewalk sale.

“People are going to start at the Expo Center, but will have a map and itinerary to get them all around the valley,” Scholl said. “We’re really trying to make it all tied in together.

“It’s sort of, the more the merrier,” she added. “The more our visitors have to do, the more apt they’ll be to stay the night.”

Some “new” visitors to this year’s Harvest Fest will be the Travel Channel and a Japanese film crew working on a documentary. According to Scholl, producers from the Travel Channel will be in town filming a segment of one of their “top 10” lists — in this case, Top 10 Natural Wonders of the West. Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge make up two of the 10 featured wonders, and the producers plan to take in Harvest Fest as one of the fall attractions in the area.

The film crew from Japan is working on a documentary about “wild weather of the west,” according to Scholl. “It’s about how we crazy Americans have fun in that weather. Of course, we’re the wind (segment).”

Film crews, media, visitors and locals will all benefit from the Harvest Fest’s timing, which coincides with the onset of the Mid Columbia’s magnificent fall foliage season. From the red-hued maple trees of the Columbia River Gorge, through the vibrantly-colored fruit orchards of the Hood River Valley, to golden tamarack trees on the flanks of Mt. Hood, the Mid-Columbia’s dress of summer green has been transformed to autumn bright. Visitors and locals alike can follow the roadside “Hood River County Scenic Tour Route” signs marking the picturesque self-guided tour through the Hood River Valley by car, or give themselves extra time to enjoy the foliage-fireworks from the seat of a bicycle. The Chamber of Commerce contributed to this story.

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