The fun has BEARly begun - BearFest kicks off this week

From mouthwatering berry pies and plant-based ice creams to Appalachian bluegrass songs and visual arts workshops, Wrangell’s BearFest will be a feast for all the senses.

This annual celebration of one of Alaska’s most beloved mammals will offer a multitude of opportunities for attendees to learn about the natural world, share their talents and celebrate the state’s unique wildlife and environment.

Here are some highlights from the packed event schedule:

Georgia-based guitarist Matt Eckstine will keep festival-goers in a celebratory mood starting with a performance at the BearFest dinner and auction, 6 p.m. at the Stikine Inn on Friday, July 28. The tickets are sold out for the dinner, but the following day he’ll offer a jam session and music workshop at 2 p.m. at the Nolan Center where community members can share their improvisational chops.

“We’re going to be down there jamming at the Nolan Center,” he said. “If there are any people that are into acoustic music, bring your instrument down. We’re just going to do some picking and grinning — no pressure, nothing serious.”

Non-musicians are also welcome at the workshop. “If people want to come and just listen, we’ll just play songs,” he added.

Eckstine has performed at BearFest three times in the past with a variety of different groups, starting in 2016. Wrangell reminds him of his hometown — “it’s beautiful to explore a new area of the world with music and just really fortunate to be getting the call to come back,” he said.

The schedule starts with several workshops on Wednesday, July 26, continuing through Saturday, July 29.

An addition to the schedule is a building-a-business workshop at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Nolan Center, led by Marc Wheeler, of the Juneau-based nonprofit Spruce Root which helps people start or grow their business.

At 4 p.m. on Friday, July 28, there will be a presentation on Tlingit heritage and culture at the Chief Shakes Tribal House, featuring dancers and storytellers.

A series of symposiums will focus on bear research, particularly at the Anan Wildlife Observatory.

The first two symposiums will cover the Anan wildlife observatory’s past, present and future, explained U.S. Forest Service Ranger Tory Houser. Researcher Danielle Chi, who is co-presenting with Houser, studied bear and human interactions at Anan in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “From that research, we created most of our management strategy,” said Houser. “I am talking about all of the management strategies that we have been doing at Anan over time, in reaction to the research.”

The Wednesday symposium with Chi and Houser and the Thursday symposium with new Anan researcher Kayleigh McCarthy — both at 6 p.m. at the Nolan Center — will look at management challenges at the site from different angles.

“From Danielle, (listeners) are going to get a really good sense of how bears use Anan and how they might react to people 30 years ago,” said Houser. “We’ve had a lot of changes since that time and that’s what I’ll be talking about.” She hopes that audience members will draw their own conclusions about what is happening to the bears. The following day, McCarthy will present her research focusing on recent changes at Anan.

For the final symposium on Saturday, audience members will turn their attention northward as University of Alaska Fairbanks faculty member Todd Brinkman shares his knowledge about the changing landscape of human and polar bear interactions in Alaska.

Brinkman is a wildlife ecologist who focuses on large mammals, including deer, moose, caribou and bears. At BearFest, he will be “talking about how climate-related changes in our environment, especially sea ice … (are) increasing the frequency and the likelihood of human-polar bear encounters.”

Sea ice is critical habitat for polar bears, he explained, and as it shrinks, polar bears spend more and more time on land, increasing the chances that they will run into people. His focus is on promoting positive wildlife interactions and minimizing harmful or negative ones.

“If we think about most of our ‘wildlife problems,’ I kind of find it funny that we call it ‘wildlife problems,’” he said. “Because it’s often people problems related to wildlife.”

His talk is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Nolan Center.

An addition to Saturday’s schedule is a workshop on beekeeping at 1 p.m. at the Nolan Center, led by beekeeper Christina Wuerker.

A race and a raffle drawing will close out the festivities on Sunday, July 30. The race has marathon, half-marathon and 5k options — registration takes place at 7 a.m. at the Nolan Center.

The full event schedule is available at


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