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Fun and foliage at this festival

Annual Festival of the Forest celebrates the area's natural delights
by: Garth Guibord, Sharon Cannon (not pictured) helps her niece, Skyeler Heinlein, 6, of Portland, build a bird house for the U.S. Forest Service at the 2006 Festival of the Forest.

The forest doesn't have to be just that patch of green foliage that separates you from the slopes on Mount Hood. There's much to celebrate about the woodland terrain that surrounds us, and the annual Festival of the Forest at Wildwood Park this Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 16 and 17, is the place to do it.

Now in its fourth year, the festival grew out of a 'songbird celebration' the Forest Service held in May during the 1990s. When that was discontinued, people looked to start a similar tradition after the busy summer season that would celebrate the natural world.

'I just think it's one of the hidden jewels,' said Marilyn Peterson, a volunteer who has been a part of all four festival years. 'There are so many festivals that happen during the summer that they become a blur. It's a good time where the kids can get out and really rock in that meadow.'

Both days start at 8 a.m. with the huckleberry pancake breakfast, a favorite among festival revelers. Various artisan booths open at 10 a.m., featuring handicrafts from around the state.

'It's more than just a retail vending area,' Peterson said. 'It's a place to come and meet and greet the artists and see them demonstrate.'

The Forest Service also opens the 'Passport Pavilion' at 10 a.m., where kids can learn about various animals and their tracks at interactive booths, while collecting animal stamps in their passport booklet. Part of the philosophy behind the festival is not only about learning about nature, but discovering the best ways to utilize everything it has to offer.

'We have a very strong conviction that recreation is one of our (best) strategies in the economy,' said Peterson. 'We have to educate the public about how to recreate responsibly. (But the festival) is not a brain-drain to come and find out about the forest.'

In the spirit of celebration, a wine and beer garden to benefit the Mt. Hood Chamber of Commerce and a wide variety of food booths will open at 11 a.m., which will include some local treats such as huckleberry jam and locally made honey.

A special art contest, the second year it's been a part of the festival, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Entrants in different age categories were accepted from all over the region, and contest winners will be announced on stage at the end of the day.

Last, but not least, there will be live music on both Saturday and Sunday, with what organizers describe as a 'diverse lineup.' Performers include Big Monti, Latin jazz by Bobby Tores, Bob Vole, and dancing with River City Cloggers.

Last year's festival drew an estimated 2,800 visitors, but organizers anticipate that up to 3,500 might participate this year. As Tony de Micoli, producer of the festival, pointed out, it's the people in the community that make the festival one of the fall highlights in the Mount Hood region.

'Without the support of the community, the festival wouldn't happen,' de Micoli said.

The Festival of the Forest will be held on Saturday, Sept. 16 and Sunday Sept. 17 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Wildwood Park - 65670 E. Highway 26 in Welches. Admission is $5 per car load, with $1 of each entry fee donated to the Welches Middle School Library.