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Valley chambers plan spring festival

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Posters promoting a Yakima Valley Spring Fling Festival, set for April 16-25, are going up all over the Lower Yakima Valley. Kathy Corliss of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce said the 10-day schedule of events is a prelude to the Yakima Valley wineries' annual Spring Barrel Tasting Weekend.

Thousands of tourists flood the Yakima Valley each April to sample the early release of Yakima Valley wines during the Valley wine industry's annual Spring Barrel Tasting weekend.

This year, in order to lengthen the stay of visitors to the Yakima Valley, Lower Valley Chambers of Commerce are marketing a series of activities designed to capture the attention of the wine enthusiasts.

"We hope to encourage tourists to come to the Valley a day early and stay a day longer," explained Kathy Corliss, tourism and promotions director of the Sunnyside Chamber.

As an encitement, the Valley Chambers have named April 16 through 25 as the Yakima Valley Spring Fling Festival, complete with a list of special events. The activities are designed to whet the curiosity of the influx of tourists and the local residents as well, Corliss explained.

"We know thousands of tourists come into the Valley the last week of April, and most stay the entire three days of the barrel tasting event at local wineries," she explained.

"We want them to stay longer," she said.

Corliss said the Valley Chambers are taking a page out of tourism plans designed by the communities in Skagit Valley, which for years have hosted month-long Daffodil and Tulip festivals each spring, events which generates millions of dollars in tourism revenues.

"It's astounding the amount of money the Skagit Valley event generates, estimated to be in the area of $16 million annually," she said.

"There is no reason we can't do something similar here," she said.

"We already know the tourists are coming to sample our wines," she said.

"What we propose to do is give them something extra to make their stay in the Valley more memorable," she explained.

Corliss said communities that normally don't gear up for tourists until summer will be marketing activities, beginning April 17 as part of the pre-barrel tasting schedule of events. She said events will continue through the barrel tasting weekend.

For example, the Granger community will dust off the paddle boats in Dino Park on April 17 and 24, for those interested in early spring water recreation.

The Toppenish Mural Society will hitch up the horses to the mural tour wagons for tours of that city's vast collection of historical murals beginning April 19.

The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a Spring Fling Golf Tournament at Black Rock Creek Golf Course on April 22, said Corliss.

In addition, the Sunnyside Chamber will sponsor an asparagus extravaganza, to be held at the Black Rock Creek clubhouse.

Yakama Legends Casino will feature the "Godfather of Rock and Rock," James Brown, in concert on April 18, at the Toppenish casino.

In addition, the Toppenish Chamber is also involved in a salmon and buffalo feed at Legends on April 23, Corliss said.

The Zillah Chamber of Commerce will be hosting a warehouse auction and wine tasting on April 21, and a spring flea market on April 24.

"We've created a special web site (www.springflingfest.com) listing the Spring Fling schedule of events to help visitors arrange their travel itinerary," she added.

"We realize it may take a while to get this event off the ground, but we're already planning events for next spring," she add.

Among the festivities to be added to the 2005 festival may be a bike ride from Prosser to Columbia Crest, and perhaps a shorter bike ride from Granger to Sunnyside's Dairy Fair on the backroads, Corliss suggested.

"Part of the idea for the festival is to create events not linked to the wine industry but which do involve families," Corliss said.

"This year's event is just a beginning," Corliss said.

For more information about the spring fling call the Sunnyside Chamber at 837-5939.

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