Festival returns for 13th year with bear necessities

BearFest is coming out of hibernation and is planned for July 27 through July 31 throughout Wrangell.

The popular event, in its 13th year, will offer pie contests, live music, art and music workshops, symposiums, a marathon and more.

"It's a celebration of bears. That's the short of it," said Sylvia Ettefagh, chairperson for the event. "Its mission is to promote Wrangell and to promote the environment; one part of our environment - a very important part of our environment - the bears."

Not only is BearFest meant to attract visitors to Wrangell like bears to a salmon-laden creek, hungry for culture and fun, it's meant to give residents something more than day-to-day life on the island.

"We want to showcase our environment, our culture, our resources - we want to showcase how it all comes together," Ettefagh said. "In that, we have opportunities for the underserved population in Wrangell to have some fun and be exposed to things they may not be exposed to otherwise, which is why pretty much everything except the dinner is free."

The dinner and auction, held at 6 p.m. on July 29, is the main fundraiser for BearFest. Upscale meals are prepared by "high-end chefs" with locally sourced ingredients "that, in Seattle, they'd be paying hundreds of dollars for," Ettefagh said.

Tickets for the dinner went on sale at 9 a.m. on July 7 and were sold out by afternoon. Organizers are keeping a wait list.

One person will be picked from raffle tickets that are sold and will win two roundtrip tickets on Alaska Airlines to anywhere the airline flies.

On average, about $10,000 is raised per year from all the work, which wouldn't be possible if not for donations and volunteer hours contributed, Ettefagh said. "If we took the true cost and didn't think about (volunteers and donations) and what we bring in from the dinner and from grants, we're way in the red."

Each year, more volunteers sign up to help.

"We get more community volunteers every year who are interested in chairing their own events or putting on a workshop or just getting involved in the marathon," Koch said.

Funds raised through the dinner are put toward the schools' arts programs or things like the routing machine used in the high school shop.

"Sylvia bought an upright bass and donated it to the music program," said music and art teacher Tasha Morse. "That happened because she brings up a band during BearFest and each year she would ask if we had a bass to loan out, and every year I said that we had an iffy electric bass."

Morse said Ettefagh went to Seattle and bought the upright bass with BearFest funds to donate to the music program, with one stipulation.

"She donated it to the school program and said, 'Now you have a bass. I just ask that you let us borrow it for BearFest bands on occasion,'" Morse said.

This year's guest band, The Banta Band, will pull triple duty like past years' bands. They will play at the dinner, the music workshop and at Rayme's Bar.

Ettefagh said she believes BearFest draws about 400 participants across all its events and it's an even mix of residents and visitors.

To see a list of events and times, visit alaskabearfest.org/schedule.html.


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