Kailee Kite and Callie Stridden, family friends of the Tulip Town owners, take a photo together in the empty Tulip Town field on April 11 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Kailee Kite and Callie Stridden, family friends of the Tulip Town owners, take a photo together in the empty Tulip Town field on April 11 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Skagit festival can draw 400K tourists. This year? Nearly 0.

Skagit County’s signature event is a $65 million boon for the region. Not amid COVID-19. And maybe not in 2021.

MOUNT VERNON — Rows of snipped red blooms lay crumbled on the ground at RoozenGaarde Tuesday — remnants of a Skagit Valley Tulip Festival that never happened.

With sunnier-than-average weather, third-generation tulip farmer Brent Roozen thinks 2020 would have been a record-breaking year for the event, which annually draws roughly 400,000 people from all over the world to rural Skagit County.

This year, the acres of vibrant pink, yellow and red flowers, normally buzzing with tourists and selfie-takers, lay silent.

The festival was called off last month amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Stubbly stems are all that remain of RoozenGaarde’s renowned sea of blooms.

Roozen said they had to cut the flowers to keep people from driving out to see them.

“With people coming up here and asking to use the bathroom or whatnot, this is why we’re asking people to stay home,” Roozen said.

His family’s business Washington Bulb Company and its fresh flower counterpart RoozenGaarde have more than 1,000 acres of bloom fields in the Skagit Valley.

In March and April, the company counts on tens of thousands customers purchasing flowers and bulbs for about 90% of its income, Roozen said.

“You put in 10 months of work for six weeks of payoff,” he said.

Without that revenue, tulip growers and the businesses that depend on tourism traffic from the festival are scrambling to ensure next year’s festival can still happen.

“It’s not a real good outlook for the festival,” the event’s executive director Cindy Verge said.

A Roozengaarde employee tends to the flowers in the display garden on April 28 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A Roozengaarde employee tends to the flowers in the display garden on April 28 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The festival, held since the 1980s, has survived past recessions. People usually still attend because it’s a low-cost activity, she said. But each year its effect on the economy — and not to mention traffic — reverberates in surrounding counties, as Seattleites, Canadians and just about everyone in between flocks to the Skagit River valley to ooh and ahh at the tulip rainbow.

“It is truly bizarre to be in a situation where you’ve developed this festival and wonderful enjoyment of spring beauty and you’re telling people ‘don’t come,’” she said.

At Tulip Town, one of the largest flower farms in Skagit County, chief executive officer Andrew Miller is making sure people can still experience the blooms even if they aren’t able to physically visit the fields.

“We decided early on that crisis can drive creativity and new connections,” Miller said.

It’s his first year managing the farm with four other Skagit Valley natives.

The top of a tulip lies on the ground next to boot prints between rows of tulips at Tulip Town on April 11 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The top of a tulip lies on the ground next to boot prints between rows of tulips at Tulip Town on April 11 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

After Gov. Inslee announced a state-wide stay-home order March 23, Miller said the team completely redid Tulip Town’s business plan in 72 hours. The stakes are high, Miller said.

“We’re thinking people will support us in ways they haven’t before,” he said. “If not, we won’t have Tulip Town next year.”

They’re missing out on the $10 admission from the roughly 100,000 people that visit Tulip Town each year.

To recoup some of that loss, they’re selling fresh-cut bouquets of tulips for delivery — something the farm has never done before.

Miller said they’re getting orders from all over Washington and beyond. Some are from Key West and Louisiana.

“Tulips are very personal,” Miller said. “When someone gets a bouquet of flowers they’re like, ‘Oh, someone thought of me.’”

But he also wanted a way for people to experience the vast, dizzying colors of the fields themselves. So the farm contracted a drone crew to film the fields at sunrise. The footage is being developed into an application that lets viewers fly over the rows of color-blocked blooms and see them sway in the breeze up close.

Dan Casmare flies his drone over the tulip fields at Tulip Town on April 13. He is filming content for the virtual reality app the business plans on launching for people to experience the tulip bloom. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dan Casmare flies his drone over the tulip fields at Tulip Town on April 13. He is filming content for the virtual reality app the business plans on launching for people to experience the tulip bloom. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We are still in the smile business,” Miller said. “We just had to take it mostly digital.”

They’re currently testing the beta application, and hope to release it within the week.

Tulip Town developed a few other ways for people to help ensure the farm’s survival. Fans can buy memberships to access farm dinners, bulb plantings and private visitation to the farms. Members have the option to put someone’s name on a stake in the tulip fields.

At RoozenGaarde, Roozen said they’re sharing photos and video on social media.

“Every spring our goal is to share the beauty of our blooms and we’re still trying to do that,” he said. “Financially it’s not helping us, but it is cool to see the difference it’s making in peoples’ lives right now.”

According to Washington State University Skagit County Extension, the tulip festival brings in an estimated $65 million in revenue to Skagit County.

“A little of that is trickling in, but basically it’s gone,” Verge said. “It’s a pretty devastating impact.”

A crushed tulip petal lays in a tire impression of a recently topped field on April 28 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A crushed tulip petal lays in a tire impression of a recently topped field on April 28 in Mount Vernon. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Next year’s festival isn’t yet front-of-mind for Roozen.

“Right now, we’re just trying to make it through the spring before we figure out what to do for next year,” he said.

Roozen said some new ideas are now off the table for 2021.

Verge is hopeful that the festival’s supporters will pull together and make next year a possibility. But right now, the 2021 Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is still a question mark on the calendar.

“The economics of it,” she said, “is I don’t know.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

Talk to us

More in Local News

A wanted suspect was arrested after a standoff with law enforcement Tuesday night. (Bothell Police Department)
Kidnapping suspect arrested after standoff in Bothell

A large police presence contained the property in the 20500 block of 32nd Dr. SE on Tuesday night.

Community Transit's Lynnwood microtransit pilot project is set to launch this fall with a service area around the Alderwood mall. (Community Transit)
Lynnwood’s microtransit test begins this fall, others possible

Community Transit could launch other on-demand services in Arlington, Darrington and Lake Stevens.

Doctor Thomas Robey sits in a courtyard at Providence Regional Medical Center on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
‘It’d be a miracle’: Providence tests new treatment for meth addiction

Monoclonal antibodies could lead to the first drug designed to fight meth addiction. Everett was chosen due to its high meth use.

Rev. Barbara Raspberry, dressed in her go-to officiating garments, sits in the indoor chapel at her home, the Purple Wedding Chapel, on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in Everett, Washington. The space used to be two bedrooms, but she and her husband Don took down a wall converted them into a room for wedding ceremonies the day after their youngest son moved out over 20 years ago. The room can seat about 20 for in-person ceremonies, plus it serves as a changing room for brides and is the setting for virtual weddings that Raspberry officiates between brides and their incarcerated fiancees at the Monroe Correctional Complex. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Everett’s oh-so-colorful Purple Wedding Chapel is in the red

Rev. Rasberry has hitched hundreds of couples over the years. After her husband died, she’s unsure if she can keep the place.

Everett
Man dies in motorcycle crash that snarled I-5 in Everett

Washington State Patrol: he tried to speed by another driver but lost control and hit the shoulder barrier.

Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs, right, a Democrat, and Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, left, running as a nonpartisan, take part in a debate, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, in Olympia, Wash., with Melissa Santos, center, of Axios Local, moderating. Hobbs and Anderson are seeking to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman, who left to take a key election security job in the Biden administration. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Sparks fly as Hobbs, Anderson face off in secretary of state debate

Julie Anderson called Steve Hobbs an “inexperienced political appointee.” He’s been in the job since Inslee put him there in November.

Zion Wright, 6, makes a face as Cecilia Guidarrama starts to massage cold facial cleanser onto his face during Evergreen Beauty College’s annual back-to-school beauty event on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of kids get free back-to-school haircuts in Everett

For hours on Wednesday, training beauticians pampered families at the Everett campus of Evergreen Beauty College.

Jose Espinoza Aguilar appears in court via video for arraignment Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, at Snohomish County Superior Court in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Prosecutors: ‘Danger’ shot man in head ‘without provocation or warning’

Jose Espinoza Aguilar had just been released from prison in May for another shooting. He now faces charges of first-degree assault.

Former public works site at 1201 Bonneville Ave is slated for affordable in housing in the Midtown District of Snohomish, Washington on April 21, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
‘Small step’ toward affordable housing is big debate in Snohomish

Four months of public hearings have hinged on how much more taxpayers could shell out if the city offers a developer a break.

Most Read