Wendy Green walked among a few dozen people and marveled at the sand sculptures on display Friday behind The Commons at Federal Way.
She said her favorite was a pointy figure called the “Horny Toad.”
“It is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” said Green, of Newcastle. “They’re sculptures you would imagine are made of metal and concrete. It’s hard to believe they’re made of sand.”
For the third year, Federal Way is playing host to the sand-sculpting event, now called the Northwest Sand Festival. Nearly 30 sculptures will be on display through Sept. 3.
Despite praise from spectators and great weather, the festival is experiencing growing pains.
Co-director Charles Beaulieu said attendance has been disappointing and is trailing the pace of last year’s turnout of 11,000.
Crowds will have to pick up for the rest of the festival, which began Aug. 16, for it to return to Federal Way again next summer, said Beaulieu, a sculptor from Kingston.
“We’re on the verge of not making it,” Beaulieu said.
Single sculptors completed most of the works on display. Doubles competition was canceled due to a lack of sculptors and as a way of trimming the event’s $150,000 budget, Beaulieu said. Instead, sculptors are working on three exhibition sculptures.
In its first year in the area, when it was the World Championship of Sand Sculpting, unusually heavy September rains hurt attendance and damaged sculptures of Jesus Christ and President Barack Obama beyond repair. The event lost about $50,000.
Last year, a slightly different event called the Tournament of Champions was moved up to an August start. Attendance still declined, but the event nearly broke even, Beaulieu said.
This year’s Tournament of Champions was moved from the old Target and Toys R Us parking lot to the southwest corner of The Commons mall, near Macy’s, for better exposure.
The City of Federal Way contributed hotel-motel tax funds for the event again – $24,000 this year, Beaulieu said.
Audrienne Stinnett of Fircrest recommended the event.
“Every time you walk around you see something you missed the first time around,” she said.
Afternoon sun revealed a hidden treasure in Brent Terry’s “Ironclad Igloo.” Inside his sand igloo is another mini-igloo that only a careful observer will see.
Sherry Degonn of Spanaway admired the detail.
“I think they’re amazing,” Degonn said. “I think each piece has so much detail that you really can’t take it all in.”
The sculptures cover an eclectic range: mermaids; a butterfly opening its wings to reveal a woman; the Picasso-esque cubes called “3 Muses”; and a Santa’s village backdrop for holiday photos.
Nearly 600 tons of glacial till sand – sticky enough to be ideal for sculpting – was trucked in. The sculptures are displayed over 88,000 square feet of parking lot.
Garry Rhoads of Canton, Ohio, sipped on some shaved ice and looked for details, following the advice of his brother from Seattle.
He found that detail in “Miss Muffet’s Revenge,” which depicts Miss Muffet holding a knife near a spider, and summed up his reaction to the event.
“It’s interesting,” he said.