Story last updated at 4/13/2011 - 2:15 pm
Looking for an excuse to come to Yakutat? Look no further: The Yakutat Ranger District is busy planning for the first annual Yakutat Tern Festival, to be held June 2-5.
Every Alaska community has a claim to fame regarding its natural resources, and Yakutat is no exception. One of the largest and southernmost known breeding colonies of Aleutian terns, a colonial nesting sea bird, exists here. The colonies in the Yakutat area appear to be a stronghold for a suspected declining worldwide population.
The Aleutian Tern has a limited range throughout Alaska and eastern Siberia and Russia, and very little is known about this species, including its migration patterns. The Yakutat area is currently at the forefront of Aleutian Tern research, including studies on population trends, nesting ecology, and migration patterns.
The idea of a birding festival in Yakutat has been around for a while. What started as a small group of planning partners has steadily increased to include the U.S. Forest Service, Yakutat Chamber of Commerce, National Park Service, Yakutat City and Borough, Yakutat Salmon Board, Yakutat School District, Yakutat Healthy Community Coalition, Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, Yak-Tat Kwan, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and individual community members. Local and regional businesses and NGOs are also getting involved as sponsors and offering special promotions for festival-goers. The committee continues building community involvement and support, even holding an art contest to create the festival logo. High school student Maka Monture submitted the winning logo, a Tlingit inspired design, which has been very well received. This has become a great community project.
The mission of the festival is "to highlight the extraordinary natural and cultural resources of Yakutat by hosting a festival celebrating Aleutian and Arctic Terns." The festival planning committee is reaching out to a wide audience, not just serious birders, by offering field trips, art exhibits, educational events for kids and adults, a bird banding demonstration, live bird presentations by the Juneau and Alaska Raptor Centers, Native cultural presentations, and guest speakers. Dr. Brad Andres, co-author of "The Birds of Yakutat," is the featured key-note speaker, and Preston Singletary, a world-renowned glass blowing artist, is the featured artist. Most recently, with the help of additional partners, we have had the fortune of adding the photography exhibition "Salmon in the Trees: Life in Alaska's Tongass Rain Forest" based on the book by Amy Gulick, who also will be speaking at the festival.
Why is there so much interest in starting a birding festival in Yakutat? A festival is an amazingly effective way of unifying a community to promote education and ecotourism revolving around the special natural resources the region has to offer. Benefits to the local community are many, including a drastically diversified and strengthened economic base through ecotourism, enhanced education and conservation opportunities, and local exposure to outside sources of arts and culture. Finally, increased awareness of the significance of our local natural resources will instill a sense of stewardship among the local community, thereby helping to ensure the conservation of these important resources for generations to come.
Why will birders "flock" to Yakutat? What distinguishes Yakutat as a world-class birding destination is its incredible habitat diversity, which translates into opportunities for birders to view over 200 species of birds, over 100 nesting varieties and many rarities, including of course Aleutian as well as Arctic terns. Spectacular mountain ranges and the Gulf of Alaska squeeze the Yakutat forelands into a narrow corridor for hundreds of thousands of resident and migratory birds. Early June is prime time to see terns up close and personal. In a short distance from Yakutat, birders can hike coastal rainforest trails, float rivers teeming with wild salmon, sea kayak Yakutat Bay or the nearby fjords, walk miles of sandy beaches, or simply drive a car to gain access to prime birding areas. In addition, Yakutat offers spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities.
So, if you have ever wanted to visit this extraordinary outpost of Southeast Alaska and were just waiting for the right time, set aside June 2-5 this year. Be a part of the first annual Tern Festival, and take in the birds, tours, culture, and arts in Yakutat. For more information on the festival, please visit www.yakutatternfestival.orgv