Story last updated at 7/25/2012 - 2:32 pm
WRANGELL - In Wrangell, the excitement is building for Bearfest, July 25-29. The festival celebrates the bears of Alaska, both black and brown, with photography and bear safety workshops, research symposiums, movies, arts & crafts exhibits and many outdoor activities from golf to a full-distance marathon.
Located in Alaska's famed Inside Passage, the southeast Alaska community is also considered to be the Gateway to the Anan Wildlife Observatory, where the bear viewing is exceptional from the beginning of July until the end of August. During this time of year, visitors come from all over to see both black and brown bears at the observatory.
Outfitter Sylvia Ettefagh, who with her husband John Verhey, owns Alaska Vistas, is credited with co-founding the Festival.
"For years, Wrangell celebrated its garnet ledge and the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that arrive each spring during the Pacific Flyway; but that's spring," said Ettefagh. "Although we take a number of clients on the Stikine to see the birds, most of them are interested in bear viewing - it's among the best in the state. A few summers ago it dawned on a group of us that a festival to honor and celebrate the bears would be the perfect summertime event."
The festival, in its third year, is still a work in progress, but one with a number of traditions in place. For example, a large ceramic bear is decorated each year and then placed around town for the days leading up to the festival, inspiring a pre-festival contest on the local radio station based upon finding where the bear is each day. Street games and city pool activities are another highly anticipated aspect of the Festival and involve most Wrangell's younger residents - especially the "slimy salmon-toss."
Also on tap are this year's featured musical artists are the jazz duo Tuck & Patti. No stranger to stages - with fans around the world - the two will be in Wrangell for free concerts on the evenings of July 27 and 28 at the Nolan Center. Funding for the entertainment, as well as for other events, is due in part to generous donations from FIRST BANK ALASKA, Alaska Airlines, Alaskan Brewing and local businesses.
For more information about Bearfest, visit alaskabearfest.org. More information about Wrangell, as well as the Anan Observatory is available online at www.wrangell.com or by phone: 800-367-9745.
Local outfitters provide guided tours to Anan Wildlife Observatory throughout July and August. The US Forest Service manages the Observatory and requires viewing permits, of which there is a limited number available each day. Prospective visitors are encouraged to plan ahead and make reservations. (Waiting until the last minute could mean the unavailability of a permit.)