BirdFest and Bluegrass Festivities fill Ridgefield

Town’s annual celebration spreads abundance of activities across the landscape

By Kathie Durbin, Columbian staff writer



If you go

What: BirdFest and Bluegrass, a celebration of wildlife, Native American culture and bluegrass music.

Where: Music downtown at the Old Liberty Theater, 115 N. Main Ave., and the Pickled Heron, 418 Pioneer St. Birders’ Marketplace is at the intersection of Mill Street and Main Avenue. Wildlife tours, with buses to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, leave from the Community United Methodist Church, 1410 S. Hillhurst.

When: noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.


RIDGEFIELD — The weather gods delivered a warm, mellow autumn day Saturday as this spiffed-up town celebrated both bluegrass music and its neighboring wildlife refuge, a major stopover for migratory waterfowl this time of year.

Bluegrass bands occupied just about every vacant stretch of grass or pavement downtown. Two indoor venues, the restored Old Liberty Theater and the Pickled Heron Gallery, featured a dozen bands, from the homegrown Countryside Ride, together five years and about to cut its first record, to Portland-based Whiskey Puppy, which toured The Netherlands last month.

Other bands jammed on street corners throughout the day, creating a lively vibe as passersby stopped to listen — a kind of small-town Austin, Texas, plopped down in Clark County.

Bluegrass music will continue Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. A ticket covering admission to all music events is $10.

Downtown Ridgefield showed off its charm with food booths, face-painting booths and craft booths, including one featuring Cathy Fischer’s bird and wildlife photographs, many of them taken on the nearby Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.

Saturday also was the final day of the season for the small Ridgefield Farmers Market, where peppers, gourds and a few plump tomatoes were for sale. “BirdFest is our swan song,” said seller Bob Mayfield, standing over a table of root vegetables. The market is finishing its third year.

Shuttle buses transported festivalgoers to the refuge’s Carty Unit, where they could visit the Cathlapotle Plank House, modeled on a traditional Chinookan house; scan the refuge for sandhill cranes on bird walks led by an Audubon naturalist; watch flintknapper Dennis Torresdal carve obsidian using a traditional elk antler flaking tool; or hear a lecture by Nathan Reynolds, an ecologist for the Cowlitz Tribe, about traditional land management practices in the area, including the use of fire to restore prairies and oak woodlands.

Archaeologist Anan Raymond led a separate two-hour hike focused on the cultural history of the refuge site, which sits near the confluence of the Columbia, Lewis and Lake rivers and was once home to the largest known Chinookan villages.

“You won’t see an artifact,” Raymond told the group gathered outside the plank house. “All the archaeology on the refuge is obscured by soil and vegetation. You will see the setting, and that’s just as important, if not more so.”

Katie Harrison of Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge said she spoke with many first-time visitors to the refuge at Saturday’s events. BirdFest “helps people understand the opportunities on the refuge, not only the wildlife viewing but the cultural legacy that existed here and still exists today,” she said.

On a refuge trail that passed beneath giant oaks, 3-year-old Nicholas Riley Farmer of Vancouver was more interested in the snake he’d just seen and in poking a stick into a hole to see if he could raise another one.

He raced ahead of his dad, Jason Farmer, who was entertaining his son while his wife Bonnie led a nature hike. It was the first time they had visited the refuge.

“We have some binoculars but we aren’t birders,” Jason Farmer admitted. They had come from downtown Ridgefield, where he’d bought his son a bird call, ice cream and two hot dogs and let him get his face painted in a blue mask.

As for himself, he said, “I enjoyed some really good bluegrass.”

BirdFest and Bluegrass is sponsored by the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge and Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. It continues Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. A detailed schedule is available at

Kathie Durbin: 360-735-4523 or