Idea Fair blooming with inspiration

Clark Public Utilities' annual event has something for everyone

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



If you go

Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair

What: Home and garden show with energy-saving ideas, more than 50 plant vendors, a farmers market, presentations and children's activities.

When: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 26-27; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 28.

Where: Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Cost: Free with suggested donation of canned goods for local food banks or cash donations to Operation Warm Heart. Parking is $6. Free Park & Ride shuttles available from the 99th Street or Fisher's Landing transit centers.

Information: Clark Public Utilities or 360-992-3000.

Gardeners, take your mark.

When the 22nd annual Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair kicks off this weekend, there will be hundreds of plants to choose from. But that's not the only reason to race to the free Clark County event.

"The Idea Fair — it really is an annual tradition," said Erica Erland, a spokeswoman for the utility. "Friday, gardeners are just lined up from the time the doors open to get their plant starts. Saturday afternoon it's lots of families, because it's rare to find so many free kids activities. And then you have the home improvement groups, commercial groups. There's a lot to do."

The gathering, at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, has indoor and outdoor exhibits, plant sales, food, guest talks and home improvement vendors, among other things.

Each year, it draws about 20,000 people over its three-day run.

Two new events introduced last year, the PowerZone kids activity area and a small market run by the Salmon Creek Farmers Market, were both huge successes and will return this year, said Heather Allmain, who's been organizing the event for the utility for the past 16 years.

"There's a whole bunch of great kids activities, a lot of hands-on learning, and also a program about the importance of power safety," Allmain said. "Both that and the farmers market were very popular last year, and we're glad we can continue them."

New this year will be a special history exhibit to commemorate Clark Public Utilities' 75th year in operation. The exhibit includes power meters from several decades, an antique line truck and other artifacts from its history.

"Before 1938, power here was provided by two different investor-owned utilities," Erland said. "We were formed through a public vote as part of a movement toward publicly owned power companies."

The company will display historic photographs and teach visitors about how the utility evolved and changed through time.

Although actually, a lot of the technology has remained very similar to what existed in those early days, Erland said.

"In our display of power meters, what's funny is that they're all kind of similar," Erland said. "The oldest ones, they look antique, but the technology they used is almost the same as what we use in today's meters."

If they're curious, adults are also welcome to the kids PowerZone area, where they can learn about how electricity and the power system works through a series of hands-on experiments.

"It's fun for kids, and adults too -- we do not have an age limit," Allmain said.

Visitors can also learn more about conserving energy and using green technology to improve the power efficiency in their homes.

The publicly owned utility initially launched the event in 1991 as a way to share energy-saving tips and provide details about rebates and other programs with its customers.

The garden and decorative yard plant sale seemed like a natural fit with the focus on home improvement and efficiency, so the Specialty Nursery Association of Clark County joined up and has been part of the show since the beginning.

Over the years, the show has continued to grow, expanding to about 300 vendors from commercial and community groups.

This year, that includes an outdoor obstacle course where adults with valid licenses can test drive electric riding mowers.

"People should really enjoy that," Allmain said. "We hope a lot of people come over to check everything out."

Sue Vorenberg: 360-735-4457;;