Festival of Trees lights up Clark County's holiday season

Popular event moves back to Hilton, adds variety of activities for all ages

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter



Community lighting ceremony at Vancouver Rotary Festival of Trees

What: Christmas tree lighting, concerts, a visit from Santa and mini farmers market.

Where: Esther Short Park, 301 W. Eighth St.; Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

When: Friday, 3 to 6 p.m., community tree lighting ceremony in Esther Short Park; 3 to 8 p.m., concerts at the Hilton by Woodwinds Anonymous, Vancouver Community Band Concert and Vancouver Pops Orchestra.

Cost: Free.

Information: rotaryfestivaloftrees.org/

Festival of Trees viewing and raffles

What: Tree displays, The Talking Tree, Vancouver Farmers Holiday Market, breakfast with Santa, pet photos with Santa, fashion show, raffle and entertainment.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Washington, 301 W. Sixth St.

When: Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. viewing and tree lighting ceremony; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. viewing, 8 a.m. breakfast with Santa, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. pet photos with Santa, 7 p.m. Couve Couture Winter Fashion Showcase; Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. viewing, 2 p.m. tea with Magenta Theater, 4 p.m. tree raffle.

Cost: Free admission with suggested donation of $5 per family, $5 for tree raffle tickets, $15 for breakfast with Santa, $10 for winter fashion showcase, $15 for Sunday tea.

Information: rotaryfestivaloftrees.org/

Hot Buttered Run

What: Fun runs through Officers Row.

Where: Races start and end at Esther Short Park, 301 W. Eighth St.

When: Sunday, 8 a.m. registration; 9:30 a.m. 12K run; 10 a.m. 5K walk/run; 11:30 a.m. kids' races; noon awards ceremony.

Cost: $7 to $45 depending on age and type of race.

Information: energyevents.com/hotbutteredrun/

Fans of the Vancouver Rotary Festival of Trees will find a transformed landscape when the city's holiday season kicks off with the big lighting ceremony tonight.

The opening events in Esther Short Park will still include all the music, happy elves and throngs of visitors to welcome Santa and flip the switch on the city's Christmas tree.

But the rest of the festival, in its 18th year, will be at a different location with new activities for Clark County families to enjoy.

The display of professionally decorated trees and associated events has moved from Pearson Air Museum, where it was held the past three years, back to the Hilton Vancouver Washington, where it was for many years prior to that.

The move was made in part because the museum is in transition and management of the site is in mediation. But beyond that, having the event at the Hilton is a bonus because it's so close to the park and other activities, said Katlin Smith, a spokeswoman for the festival.

"It's going to be a very fun weekend," Smith said. "We really switched things up this year."

Rotary puts on the festival each year as a fundraiser to provide community grants and scholarships to Vancouver high school students.

Usually it auctions the trees off at a gala event at the closing ceremonies, but this year organizers decided to do a raffle instead, Smith said.

"People have always said 'how can we get access to a tree?'" Smith said. "We thought a raffle would be a good way to open it up to more people."

Through the weekend, visitors can buy $5 tickets and put them in raffle buckets in front of any tree they'd like to win. Winners will be drawn at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Besides the trees, which are synthetic, ornaments and decorations, each winner will also get $500 and a package of gifts associated with the theme of their tree.

Some of the themes this year include "An Evening Out," a red-and-gold tree with a top hat and gifts of jewelry, dinners and theater tickets; "Sports Spectacular," a red-and-white tree with gifts of sports tickets, equipment and lessons; and "A Child's Dream," a multi-colored display with gifts of a doll house, kids bedding, Legos and stuffed animals.

"Basically, if you win, your Christmas could be all taken care of," Smith said.

There are 11 trees up for raffle, and "The Talking Tree," which greets visitors as they enter the display room, will also be up for sale through a silent auction, although "it doesn't come with a speaker," Smith said with a laugh.

New events also go with the changed rules for tree sales. This year, the festival includes a special "Breakfast with Santa" event for kids and families with entertainment by The Magenta Theater, and "Tea with Magenta Improvisational Theater," which is also family friendly but for a somewhat older crowd, Smith said.

Those events are $15 each.

Santa will also be on hand for pictures with people and pets for free from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The festival has done visits with Santa before, but not for pets, she said.

"Santa loves everybody," Smith said. "So people should feel free to bring their pets and also they should bring a camera."

Saturday evening another new event appears with the launch of the "Couve Couture Winter Fashion Showcase," in which designers will display their winter lines among the trees.

"It's the first year we've done this with Couve Couture," Smith said. "The models will be able to come out and around the trees. It should be a lot of fun."

Beyond that, there will also be a special Vancouver Holiday Farmers Market in the building with locally crafted gifts and other items and a scavenger hunt for the kids.

The Hot Buttered Run, put on by Energy Events, isn't officially part of the Festival of Trees this year, but it will be part of the downtown festivities this weekend, said Brian Davis, who organizes it.

"It's a new location for us this year, we're starting and ending in Esther Short Park rather than down by Pearson Air Museum," Davis said.

That event also moved because of issues around the site's management, he said.

"We couldn't have music at Pearson Air Museum because of the situation right now and the stricter event rules from the Park Service," Davis said. "But Esther Short Park will be great. We've got the tree there, we've got more room. I think it will be fun."

The event includes a 12K, 5K and kids' fun run with hot chocolate, vendors and hot buttered rum drinks for the adults at the finish area.

Since it's not part of the Festival of Trees this year, part of the proceeds will be split between the Race to Remember and the Clark County Food Bank, Davis said.

The event usually donates about $1,500 to $2,000 each year, he added.