Story last updated at 11/6/2013 - 1:36 pm
If you've ever traveled to Seattle for Bumpershoot or Bon Jovi (as a number of Alaskans did in early October), to Portland for Wordstock, or to the Sturgis Bike Rally in South Dakota, then you are among the growing number of travelers who leave home for travel to attend an event, concert or festival.
Communities all over the world host special events about a countless number of topics and interests designed to entertain locals but also to draw those oh-so-important independent traveler dollars. Visitors spend hundreds each day on lodging, food and gifts, which enhance the local economy. If they enjoy their experience in your community, they tell their friends and an events reputation grows.
Alaska has a number of longtime events that draw visitors from far and wide. Almost 300,000 people a year visit the Alaska State Fair in Palmer, making it the largest special event in the state. Other prominent statewide events include the World Ice Carving Championships and The Iditarod and Fur Rondy in Anchorage.
Our festivals in Southeast Alaska are smaller, but no less significant to our local communities and a number of them highlight local wildlife. One that combines great entertainment and opportunities for learning is the Sitka Whalefest.
Sponsored by the Sitka Sound Science Center, Whalefest has been a gathering of whale enthusiasts and scientists for more than 17 years. The weekend long festival includes lectures, guided marine wildlife cruises, a marine themed arts and crafts market, a fun run/walk and several evenings of local food and entertainment.
Whalefest was Oct. 31 to Nov. 2 this year and featured a keynote address by author Bill Streever, a scientist and nature writer who is best known for his books "Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places" and "Cold: Adventures in the World's Frozen Places." Other notable speakers include Dr. Craig George, Pierre Richard and Lori Quakenbush. Learn more at www.sitkawhalefest.org
Also popular with naturalists is the Bald Eagle Festival in Haines, Alaska. The 19th Annual Festival is Nov. 11-17 this year and is sponsored by the American Bald Eagle Foundation and the people of Haines. The festival features photography workshops, live raptor presentations, social events and numerous presentations and guest speakers.
The highlight of the week for many is the "Gathering of the Eagles" at the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve where thousands of Eagles can be found each year feeding on the largest and latest run of salmon run in Southeast Alaska in the Chilkat Valley. Since portions of the Chilkat River remain ice-free due to areas of warmer water, the eagles are assured a dependable food source throughout most of the winter. The scenic valley also offers a variety of perch and roost sites and shelter from strong winds and storms, making it an ideal Eagle habitat and a dream come true for wildlife photographers.
The featured guest speaker this year is Wayne Price, a Tlingit wood carver from Haines who will be talking about and exhibiting a 16-foot dugout canoe he is in the process of carving. Price said, "I can help young people save themselves a lot of sadness, heartache, grief, and confusion just by teaching them to create a dug out canoe (that they can use) for gathering food, potlatches, races and journeys to other villages." Learn more at www.baldeagles.org.
Next summer, watch for Bearfest in Wrangell at the end of July. This five-day festival began in 2010 and offers bear viewing trips, a photo contest and exhibit, wildlife films, photography workshops, crafts for the kids, salmon bakes and world class entertainment that has included internationally known recording artists Pearl Django and husband and wife duo Tuck and Patti. Watch for the new schedule of events at www.alaskabearfest.org