BEAR PAW IS BACK: A guide to the fun and flavor of this year’s festival

Friday, July 14, 2017 - 19:23
  • Participants in the 1995 Ice Cream Eating Contest dig in.
  • Rodeo, 1991. (Star file photo)
  • Meghan Mackey, 7, celebrates her victory in the first Great Alaska Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest in 1991. (Star file photo)
  • 1998 Slippery Salmon Olympics (Star file photo)
  • The 2000 Teddy Bear Picnic. (Star file photo)
  • The 2000 Teddy Bear Picnic. (Star file photo)
  • Bear Paw King Nathan Dennis, left, and Queen Victoria Bensel lead a line of royalty during the parade Saturday, July 13.
  • Mary Marsolais, left, and Brian Swanson (pushing stroller) race during the 2003 Bear Paw 5K in Eagle River. (Star file photo)

Now in its 32nd year, Eagle River’s Bear Paw Festival has grown from a small community shin-dig to a major summertime event drawing thousands of visitors to downtown Eagle River each year.

Looking back through the Star’s archives, it’s amazing to see so many familiar faces — and to watch them as they grow. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see two and three generations of Chugiak-Eagle River residents enjoying the festival together as the tradition is passed down to the next generation of “bear cubs.” In this special section, we’ve included a few photos from Bear Paws past — and we’re guessing some of the faces from our archives might even be familiar to some frequent readers and festivalgoers.


In the story below, we’ve mapped out a brief description of the sights, sounds and smells visitors to the festival can expect to encounter over the next few days, as well as some tips for having a super time. (See below for a full schedule of Bear Paw events) From carnival rides and teddy bears to hot dogs and slippery salmon, there’s no shortage of things to do during the festival, which kicked off Wednesday with the annual awards ceremony and continues through Sunday evening. This year’s festival mascot is “Super Bear,” a fitting representative of a super festival.

And so, without further ado, it’s up, up and away…to Bear Paw!

Grand Parade a Saturday highlight

This year’s Grand Parade will be Saturday, July 15 starting at 11 a.m. in downtown Eagle River. The route — as per usual — will run along the Old Glenn Highway before turning onto Business Boulevard and running through the festival grounds. This year’s Grand Marshall is Chugiak Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department chief Virginia Lauer-McMichael, who has been with the department for nearly 25 years. Thousands of people attend the parade from Anchorage and the Mat-Su, so it’s not a bad idea to get a spot early.

Hungry? Just follow your nose

Among this year’s festival vendors are at least 30 selling food, enough to satisfy the hungriest of bears. Festival foodies can pick from a near limitless smorgasbord of offerings, including fudge, funnel cake, schnitzel, halibut, tacos, gumbo, cheesesteaks, cotton candy, fried brownies, piroshki…you get the picture. There’s so much food, in fact, that it’s overflowing, with food available at the main vendor area and at Eagle River Bowl. Check out the official festival guide for a map of vendors, or just follow your nose.

In addition to the food, the vendor court will be packed with a cross-section of Alaska businesses, politicians, nonprofits, artists and more. Vendors will set up shop alongside Business Boulevard across from the main stage — you can’t miss ‘em.

Chugiak’s hometown carnival is back

A family-run carnival company headquartered alongside the Old Glenn Highway in Chugiak, Golden Wheel Amusements will again operate this year’s festival rides and midway. Rides range from the tame — no carnival is complete without a Ferris wheel — to the moderately terrifying. The fun begins at 2 p.m. Thursday and continues through Sunday, with first rides spinning at 11 a.m. Friday and Saturday and noon on Sunday.

Annual kids’ picnic a (teddy) bear necessity

For children of a certain age, there really is only one event worth attending each year — the Teddy Bear Picnic.

Among toddlers, the picnic is a can’t miss, with the annual parade kicking off a Friday of kid-friendly fun that starts at 11 a.m. Among the events will be the music-filled parade, a free picnic, the Odor Eater’s Rotten Sneaker Contest, Chalk the Walk and oodles of kids’ games. Don’t forget to bring a teddy bear!

For kids who may have outgrown the teddy bear phase, there will be a LEGO competition in the nearby Chugiak-Eagle River Library, also starting at 11 a.m.

Brain freeze? Yes please!

Looking for a treat? Get your fill at the ice cream eating contest Sunday at 1:30 p.m. after the Running with the Bears event.

Run, run, run

Athletes aching to run off a few Bear Paw calories have several options during the festival, ranging from hard-core to hardly running. On Thursday at 6 p.m., Healthwise (11421 Old Glenn) will conduct its “Suburban Challenge,” a fun walk/run with checkpoints around town. Collect as many raffle tickets as you can and return at 7 p.m. for a prize drawing. Bonus: Anyone bringing a non-perishable food item gets a free raffle ticket.

On Saturday the real race begins, with the annual Bear Paw 5K. The race typically attracts a mix of competitive and casual runners out to get some exercise before settling in for the 11 a.m. parade. The race starts at 10:30 a.m. Runners can sign up online at Cost is $20 to preregister (no t-shirt), $30 to preregister (t-shirt included), $25 to late register (no t-shirt) and $40 to late register (t-shirt included). Preregistration is strongly recommended.

The final “running” event of the festival is barely a race at all. The annual “Running with the Bears” is a 300-yard fun run, “because after 300 yards, it isn’t fun anymore!” according to festival organizers. The run includes dozens of costumed “bears” and if people get “bit” they have to check in at First National Bank’s Aid Station. All participants get a t-shirt, and there will be prizes. Preregister for $20 on the Bear Paw website or pay $25 on race day (with no guarantee of a t-shirt).


Gearheads rejoice, there’s plenty of hot rods and choppers to keep things revving over the weekend. Always a highlight, the Chepo’s Classic Car Show will be Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. on Business Boulevard. Check out Mercury’s, Model T’s, Mustangs and more, with an awards ceremony scheduled for 8:30 p.m. On Sunday, it’s the two-wheelers’ turn, as Geico will present the 10th annual Motorcycle Show at 1 p.m. on Business Boulevard. There’s no fee to enter the show, which will award prizes in several categories.

Spectacular salmon

No Bear Paw Festival could be complete without a couple fishy favorites. Back this year to bring slime and soda together for Eagle River’s smelliest relay race, the Slippery Salmon Olympics will test teams’ speed and stomachs as they negotiate a short course while handing off soda and dead salmon to each other. It’s even more gross than it sounds. The MTA-sponsored event starts right after the Grand Parade at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, with Q99.7 DJ Eddie Maxwell providing the commentary. Teams can sign up online for the event, which — for reasons that remain unclear — always sells out.

For those who prefer their salmon cooked, the annual IBEW/Alaska Salmon Alliance “Chopped Salmon Throwdown” salmon cooking contest is Sunday at 2:15 p.m. Chefs will revive mystery ingredients with which to create the best salmon dish. Entry forms are available online.

Rodeo…Alaska style

It’s a round-up! Back for three days of rodeo action this year at Eagle River Lions Park is Rodeo Alaska. Friday’s events include bull riding and barrel racing starting at 6:30 p.m. On Saturday, gates open at 4 p.m. for a 6 p.m. Alaska Champions Tour Rodeo. On Sunday, gates open art noon for a 2 p.m. Rodeo Alaska Champions Tour Rodeo. Cost is $14 or $12 for military (kids 8 and under free).

Staying safe

The bucking broncs aren’t the only “rodeo” in town for Bear Paw. There’s also the Bicycle Safety Rodeo Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. near the mainstage, with prizes and bicycle safety tips for kids ages Kindergarten through 12. Kids should bring a helmet (and superhero cape!). Kids who need a helmet can get fitted for a free one courtesy of Al Bowler and Troy Sayer of State Farm. Kids who complete the safety course can enter to win a new bike and helmet from Fred Meyer.

Games galore

Feeling heroic? A couple Saturday events should help satisfy even the most competitive festival fan. At 3 p.m. on the mainstage, the annual Bear Paw’s Got Talent contest will bring the talented (and others) together for a community variety show. Each competitor will have 3 minutes and 30 seconds to give it their all — or their almost. Sign-ups are at 2:45 p.m., and there are prizes.

Following the talent show there will be a human foosball tournament in the street near the mainstage. Teams of six will compete in a life-sized version of the tabletop game until one grand champion emerges victorious.

Doggone fun

Anyone who’s been told they look like their dog has a chance to finally cash in. This year’s VCA Dog and Owner Look-A-Like Contest will be at 11:30 a.m. Sunday on the mainstage. Dress as your pooch or just show up with the most dogged look, as prizes will be awarded for the most creative costumes.

Although dogs are more than welcome at the look-a-like contest, festival organizers ask that people leave their dogs at home during the festival. For dogs who are in the area, Home Away From Home will offer a Doggy Day Care watering station Saturday and Sunday to keep dogs cool in the festival heat.

Bear Paw strong

Alaska’s strongest will compete on Sunday in front of the People Mover transit center at the AAU Bear Paw Powerlifting Championships. The event starts at noon and runs to 4 p.m., with competitors lifting in front of one of the largest crowds in Alaska. Coast is $14 for athletes 19 and under or $24 for others. Register at

Be someone’s hero

The Blood Bank of Alaska will have its “LIFEmobile” set up all weekend near the transit center to take blood donations at the festival Friday from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. After giving blood, stop by the Chugiak-Eagle River Senior Center booth near the transit center from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. There will be information about the center, free blood pressure checks and refreshments.

For mama bear

Several local churches are sponsoring a baby changing and nursing station hospitality tent near the carnival area. The tent will feature a changing station, rocking chairs and a quiet environment to escape the festival commotion.

Road closures during festival

During the Grand Parade on Saturday, the Old Glenn Highway will be closed along the parade route, which runs from near Chief Alex Park along the Glenn to the Eagle River Loop/Business Boulevard intersection, then left onto Business Boulevard and back to the finish near Centerfield Drive.

Shuttle service running Saturday

A shuttle bus will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 15 in downtown Eagle River. The Reliant Transportation shuttle will bring people between the festival grounds on Business Boulevard and parking at Fred Meyer on the north end of town and the VFW Post 9785 on the south side. The shuttle will not run between 10:45 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. due to the Bear Paw 5K at 10:15 a.m. and the Grande Parade at 11 a.m. Look for the Bear Paw Shuttle signs.

Feeling like a lucky duck?

The festival wraps up at 4 p.m. with the final event of the weekend, the annual Ididaduck Rubber Ducky Race. Sponsored annually by the Eagle River Area Rotary Club, the event will feature more than 1,000 rubber duckys dropped into a race chute. Each duck has a number, and they’ll be chosen at random for dozens of prizes. Tickets are $10.

Note: All events held on the festival grounds on Business Boulevard near Town Square Park unless otherwise noted. For complete event descriptions and more information, visit


Wednesday, July 12

11:30 a.m. — Bear Paw Awards Luncheon, Eagle River Ale House

6 p.m. — Xtra Tuf Competition, Handyman Relay, Chepo’s Mexican Restaurant (11535 Market Street)

6 p.m. — Sourdough Truck Competition, Re/Max of Eagle River (11525 Old Glenn)

Thursday, July 13

2 p.m. — Golden Wheel Amusement carnival begins, Town Square Park

6 p.m. — Operation Bear Paw Road Rally, Carl’s Jr.

6 p.m. — Suburban Challenge, Healthwise Care & Physical Therapy (11421 Old Glenn)

7 p.m. — Bear Paw Pageant, Chugiak High School

Friday, July 14

11 a.m. — Golden Wheel Amusement carnival begins, Town Square Park

11 a.m. — Lego Competition, Eagle River Town Center (12001 Business Boulevard)

11 a.m. — Teddy Bear Parade, Teddy Bear Picnic, Chalk the Walk, Town Square Park

11 a.m. — Odor Eaters Rotten Sneaker Challenge, Town Square Park

6 p.m. — Classic Car Show, Business Boulevard

6:30 p.m. — Bear Paw Rodeo, Eagle River Lions Park

Saturday, July 15

10:15 a.m. — Bear Paw Classic 5K run/walk, AutoZone (12250 Old Glenn)

11 a.m. — Golden Wheel Amusement carnival begins, Town Square Park

11 a.m. — Bear Paw Grand Parade, Old Glenn Highway and Business Boulevard

1 p.m. — Bicycle Safety Rodeo, Mat Valley Federal Credit Union (11800 Business Boulevard)

1:15 p.m. — Slippery Salmon Olympics, Mainstage

2:15 p.m. — Alaska Moving Arts performance, Mainstage

3 p.m. — Bear Paw’s Got Talent, Mainstage

3 p.m. — Chopped Salmon Throwdown, Mainstage

5 p.m. — Human foosball tournament, Mat Valley Federal Credit Union (11800 Business Boulevard)

6 p.m. — Bear Paw Rodeo, Eagle River Lions Park

Sunday, July 16

9 a.m. — Alaska Powerlifting competition, People Mover transit station

11:30 a.m. — VCA Dog/owner look-a-like contest, Mainstage

Noon — Golden Wheel Amusements carnival begins

12:30 p.m. — Candice’s Dance Studio, Mainstage

1 p.m. — Motorcycle show, Business Boulevard

1 p.m. — Running with the Bears 300 yard fun run, Mainstage/Business Boulevard

1:30 p.m. — Ice Cream Eating Contest, Mainstage

2 p.m. — Bear Paw Rodeo, Eagle River Lions Park

2:15 p.m. — Chopped Salmon Throwdown, Mainstage

4:30 p.m. — Ididaduck, Mainstage

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