Dozer Day is their happy place

Nutter family of Clark County not only embraced the event, they saved it

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

If You Go

• What: Dozer Day.

• When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 20-21.

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

• Cost: Tickets are $13 for adults; $11 for children ages 2-12 and seniors 60-up; free for under 2.  Parking is $6 per vehicle, cash only.

• On the web: vancouver.dozerday.org

Dozer Day isn’t just a dream come true for thousands of children who want to get teeny hands on mammoth machines.

It’s also a dream come true for Renee Nutter, who didn’t want to stay sidelined as a mother and the wife. She wanted to use those roles to leverage some really important results: charity for good causes, simple joy for kids.

“I just want to give them fun,” she said.

Dozer Day was invented in Wisconsin and adopted locally in 2005 as a fund- and profile-raiser by the Parks Foundation — which quickly found that staging a huge, kid-oriented festival of heavy machinery was prohibitively expensive and complex.

But not for Clark County’s Nutter family, which operates a prominent construction company and a charitable foundation, too. When the future of Dozer Day seemed iffy, the Nutters — driven largely by Renee — stepped in and saved it.

“It was going to go away, my kids were young, and I was really thinking about what my purpose in life was. I wanted to make a difference,” Renee Nutter said. “It took the right person to be passionate about it, I guess.”

Not just the right individual — the right family with the right kids, who over the years have helped brainstorm continuous Dozer Day improvements. The event wouldn’t be the same now without the creative input of son and daughter Jerry and Sammi, Nutter said.

“My kids have helped do the planning. They’ve contributed so many ideas” that a grown-up would not have thought of, Nutter said — like a scavenger hunt, laser tag, a bounce house, sandboxes and other activities that will keep children busy and happy while they’re waiting for the main event.

That’s 25 pieces of heavy equipment — excavators, loaders, dozers — they can drive and operate for real. Each child gets a solo turn (with a licensed, certified, professional adult right there in the cab, of course) as the star of their own big-machine fantasy.

“We are all about creating memories for the kids,” Nutter said.

They’re also about teaching them something along the way. The Clark Public Utilities Stream Team and Northwest Natural Gas will both be on hand with information about construction-related environmental issues like safeguarding clean water and natural resources; local fire districts will also be there, with lessons about fire safety and first aid — plus fire trucks kids can climb around on.

And, of course, the whole event is a great way to inspire kids about getting into the building trades. Hundreds of volunteers are eager to help out every year, and typical attendance is as many as 20,000 people over the course of the weekend. (It’s called Dozer Day but it’s actually a two-day festival.)

“Everybody is so happy to be there,” said Nutter. “This is our happy place.” She said she’ll never forget rushing up to a little boy who was wailing at one of her earliest Dozer Days, and asked his mom, did he get hurt? What happened?

What happened was, his heart broke when it was time to go home. “I knew we were doing good things, then,” Nutter said.

$1 million so far

Maybe even better than temporary joy for children (plus the risk of heartbreak) is lots of dollars for lots of charities.

“When I first started doing this, I told people my goal was to give away $1 million in 10 years,” Nutter said. “Everybody thought I was crazy. But this is the ninth year, and we’ve hit it.”

As of now, she said, the Nutter Family Foundation has funneled precisely $1,033,561.06 to a long list of charities, from AGC (Associated General Contractors) for college scholarships to Yacolt Elementary School and the YWCA Clark County. And on May 19, the Foundation is welcoming the children of Orchards Elementary School to a preview of Dozer Day. One day before the event opens to the general public, Orchards kids get their own rides — without any cost to them or the school.

Also, Nutter has begun licensing satellite Dozer Days. The Central Washington Homebuilders Association hosted its third annual Dozer Day in Yakima in March, she said, and the National Utility Contractors Association of Washington will host its second Dozer Day on the first weekend in June at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup.