Early birds enjoying the tulip fields Friday morning.

Thousands turn out for tulips

Agassiz Tulip Festival overwhelmed with thousands of long weekend visitors

The Agassiz Tulip Festival is a victim of its own success. The overwhelming numbers caused gridlock on the highway, overcrowding at the parking lot and frustrated festival-goers.

The festival’s Facebook page was filled with posts reminding visitors to come outside of peak hours and letting people know when the parking lot was full. However, thousands still poured into Seabird Island, overwhelming festival facilities and leaving some visitors dissatisfied.

Complaints included long waits for limited buses, the cost of parking plus the entrance fee, the lack of adequate port-a potties for the number of attendees and long lines on Highway 7 just to get to Seabird. Visitor Caro Alarie wrote, “We walked half an hour with two kids under 5 but couldn’t make them walk back. Waited an hour and 10 minutes to get in the shuttle, how can that be?”

But for others, the time and money was well-spent. Facebook commenter Holly Stump wrote, “We loved it. Totally not a rip off. Worth every penny. Even with hundreds of people in front of us the wait for the shuttle was only about 20 minutes. Great service. And being able to buy tulips at the end was the icing on the day!”

Poster Kellee Roque said, “Great festival! We have a 3 year-old and we had no problem waiting for the bus at peak time.”

Many commenters posted pictures of smiling families surrounded by stunning tulips stretching into the horizon.

Festival co-ordinator Kate Onos-Gilbert says there were record numbers of visitors this weekend. Friday, April 3 was rainy but busy. Saturday, Onos-Gilbert estimates there were more than 3,000 visitors. But Sunday and Monday were the two biggest days with over 5,000 Sunday and close to the same Monday.

“We were anticipating maybe 3,000 a day for the maximum,” says Onos-Gilbert. “Saturday was really hard for people because we could only get two buses,” she explains, adding that people choosing to park on the highway did not help matters as that caused congestion.

But by Monday they were able to get five buses running, making a significant difference. This was the first year the tulip festival used a bus service for attendees. Seabird Island manages the parking lot and the bus costs are shared between Seabird Island and Onos Greenhouses Ltd, which grows tulips for the bulbs to use in the company’s cut-flower operation.

“Hopefully for next year we’ll be able to figure out parking and road control,” says Onos-Gilbert.

The tulip festival started in 2006 with about 200 visitors. Since then, it’s grown to between 20,000 and 30,000 attendees over the 12-day event.

Onos-Gilbert says having Easter fall on the same time as the tulip festival definitely increases the numbers, along with good weather. Word has spread through social media in Vancouver, bringing carloads out to the valley for the annual event.

Onos-Gilbert admits that organizing a festival is not her area of expertise. This is just a side project of hers that has grown beyond its humble beginnings.

“I’m looking to have more community assistance,” says Onos-Gilbert. “If people are willing to help me with the organization, help with the planning so we can make it a smoother event for everyone involved, that would be really helpful to me.”

Onos-Gilbert warns that this weekend’s attendance could vary greatly depending on the weather and encourages locals to come out today or tomorrow to beat the possible crowds and take advantage of the cheaper weekday parking and admission costs.

The tulip festival is open today, Thursday, from 12-4 p.m., tomorrow from 12-6:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9-6:30 p.m. The final day of the festival is Sunday, April 12. For admission price and other details, visit www.tulipsofthevalley.com