Thousands turn out for Sand in the City festival in Olympia

Lorie Gordon’s sand-sculpting tool box includes cement trowels, paintbrushes and metal picks.

Her favorite tool?

A simple plastic drinking straw. She wears it on a string, like a necklace.

“It’s to blow off extra particles,” said Gordon, 41, of Portland, one of the master sculptors participating in Sand in the City this weekend at the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia.

The free festival, which continues Sunday, typically draws 35,000 visitors, according to the museum’s executive director Patty Belmonte.

“We’ve never missed a year,” said Olympia resident Mily O’Neill, who brought her 6-year-old daughter Grace and 4-year-old son Rodney. “It’s one of the things that makes this community so great.”

Artist Bert Adams, 54, of Yacolt, Clark County, founded the first Sand in the City about 20 years ago in Portland.

The concept — have teams compete in a sand-sculpture contest to raise money for a nonprofit — has been duplicated in several communities including Omaha, Nebraska, Nashville, Tennessee and Iowa City, Iowa.

Future events are planned for Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Lincoln, Nebraska, Adams said.

“We’re talking to a lot of people in Europe,” he said, while sculpting an exhibition piece Saturday in Olympia. “And I really want to get to Australia or New Zealand.”

Donations and proceeds of Olympia’s Sand in the City support the museum’s free and reduced-price admissions program, which serves about 85,000 adults and children a year, according to museum officials.

“It’s our signature fund-raising event,” Belmonte said.

The Garcia family of Joint Base Lewis-McChord brought sand buckets and shovels, thinking they’d look at some sculptures and let their kids play in the sand.

They were surprised that the event was so big, and offered so many other activities, including a rock-climbing wall, music, crafts and a petting zoo, said Victor Garcia, 42.

“It’s amazing,” said 8-year-old son Diego Garcia. “We also touched pigs’ lungs.”

(The pig lungs were at a booth sponsored by Together, and were part of a demonstration on the effect of tobacco use.)

Master sand sculptor Shiloh Kauzlarich, 36, of Olympia, got involved in Sand in the City five years ago when she was part of a corporate team. Since then, she’s participated in several sand-sculpting contests.

Her favorite part?

“Just seeing the raw form of sand come into a form and tell a story,” she said. “It’s so much fun.”

Like Gordon, Kauzlarich’s toolbox included shovels, cement trowels and brushes.

But her secret weapon is a circular metal curry comb, the type that’s used in horse grooming.

“I can quickly remove a lot of sand at one time,” Kauzlarich said.