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Celebrate Olympia's Maritime History at Olympia Harbor Days Festival This Weekend!

Hear about what's new this year at Olympia Harbor Days from Executive Director Carol Riley!

Photo: LG Evans

An event planner by trade, Carol Riley, Executive Director of Olympia Harbor Days festival, formerly owned her own event planning company, Reunions Unlimited, focusing on high school reunions. “In the 20 years I owned it, we planned 750 high school reunions,” says Riley. Riley was first hired by the Kiwanis Club in 2015, shadowing the Olympia Harbor Days festival that year, and made the transition to Executive Director of the festival in 2016. “I remember coming to Harbor Days years ago when my kids were young,” says Riley. It was a memorable part of their childhood, but it had been awhile since I’d participated, so it felt great to be back.”

Olympia Harbor Days (OHD) an annual non-profit festival, celebrating the return of the vintage tugboats of the Puget Sound to Olympia for three days of entertainment, food, art, history and a last farewell to summer. Vintage tugboats, retired or working, are moored at Olympia’s Percival Landing where you can Tour the Tugboats on Saturday. Sunday the tugboats leave shore at noon to participate in the annual World’s Largest Vintage Tugboat Races & Show! They race the deep channel of Budd Bay near Butler Cove.

Today, Olympia Harbor Days is an Olympia Kiwanis Club* event and the third largest festival in Thurston County, attracting 55,000 visitors annually, featuring over 200 booths, activities, music and food. “It’s the second largest festival held within city limits, and the largest maritime festival in the South Sound,” says Riley. Planning and execution keep Riley busy year-round. “Believe it or not, I just started the process of filling out paperwork and getting permits for 2020.”                                  

Since the festival relies on the support of generous community supporters and sponsors and is free to attend, Riley has been thinking of innovative ways to generate revenue and focusing on its sustainability and future. “Since the historic steamship, the Virginia V, was already coming to Olympia Harbor Days every other year, I figured, ‘Why not put some people on it, partner with hotels and make it into a little getaway weekend event?’” So Riley did just that, and the cruise package began to be offered 2017. Attendees board the ship in Tacoma, cruise to Olympia, stay at the Doubletree for 2 nights, enjoy the Olympia Harbor Days festival and exploring Olympia, then depart on a sunset cruise back to Tacoma. 

The first year we offered this, six couples attended, and last year we had 12 couples plus 25 individuals from a tour group from California who stay 3 nights in Olympia, plus local seniors who make the day trip,” says Riley. “I’m really excited that I’ve been in touch with at least three couples from last year who enjoyed it so much they’re coming again this year along with 12 new couples.  The California tour group who previously participated offered the tour again this year and sold out.  We will have a full boat heading to Olympia Harbor Days!” See the cruise package details here:

New to this year’s event is a collaboration with the walking group America Volksport Association. An international group, the organization boasts more than 250 chartered sports clubs nationwide, and the Capitol Volksport Club chapter reached out to Riley to participate and partner with the event. The walk route will take walkers along the historic Percival Landing walkway, around Budd Bay to West Bay Park where there is a beautiful view of the Port of Olympia, Budd Bay, and the Tall Ships moored at the Percival Landing docks. Those who finish the walk by 5:00 p.m. will be just in time to enjoy the Olympia Harbor Days’ opening ceremony provided by the Squaxin Island Tribe. Registration is open to all walkers, including little ones in strollers, between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Friday August 30 at the Batdorf and Bronson tasting room patio area located at 200 Market Street NE., Olympia, Washington. See more details here

“This year we have more tugboats participating in the Tugboat races than in about a decade, including two ships that haven’t been here in 20 years, one built in 1902 and community favorite retired US Coast Guard Tug Comanche, a floating WWII museum,” says Riley. On August 30 & 31, OlyArts The Tempest will be holding performances at 8:00 p.m. shortly after the festival ends for the day. “So you can come down, bring the kids for all the activities, tour the tugboats, have dinner and visit the beer garden, then stay for the show,”says Riley. “We’re excited and thankful for more community participation and new partnerships this year and look forward to a fun and successful Olympia Harbor Days 2019, we hope to see you there!”

For more information, visit:

*Photo courtesty of LG Evans 


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