Tens of thousands expected in Eagle River for annual Bear Paw Festival
It’s time to grin and Bear Paw it.
Eagle River’s annual summertime festival returns for its 33rd year this week, with a full slate of family fun set to take over the fairgrounds at Town Square Park and elsewhere across Chugiak-Eagle River.
“It’s been going really great,” said Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Rinckey.
Rinckey is in her first year leading the chamber, which organizes the July 11-15 festival. She said planning has been hectic, but she’s been helped by frequent calls to past Bear Paw organizers Suzie Gorski, Dana Thorp Patterson and Merry Braham to pull from their years of experience running the big show.
“All three of those ladies, I’m totally amazed by them,” Rinckey said.
Braham — the chamber’s former special events coordinator and one of the festival’s original founders — will occupy a special spot in this year’s festival, as she and her husband, Mitch, will serve as grand marshals for the Bear Paw Parade on Saturday.
“I think it’ll be really neat for them to see what they’ve created over the years,” Rinckey said.
The festival kicked off with an awards luncheon on Wednesday at the Eagle River Ale House. That evening, a new event called Bear Paw Paints will be held at Chepo’s Restaurant at 6 p.m.
Things really start swinging Thursday when the Golden Wheel Amusements Carnival starts up at 11 a.m. Thursday. The carnival will run through Sunday and serves as the unofficial center of the festival. The booths along Business Boulevard start operating at noon on Friday.
There are plenty of favorites at this year’s festival, including the always popular Teddy Bear Picnic on Friday, the Slippery Salmon Olympics on Saturday and the event-closing I-Did-a-Duck race on Sunday. Also back is the Bear Paw Rodeo, which will be held at Lions Park at 6 p.m. (Friday and Saturday) and 2 p.m. Sunday.
There’s also some new things as well. Rinckey said one event she’s particularly excited about is the Bear Paw Live event, a daylong live music venue and beer garden on the festival grounds. There’s no admission fee to the festival-inside-the-festival, which will be held behind the Mat Valley Federal Credit Union.
For those looking for a taste of Eagle River, Rinckey said there are more than 100 vendors signed up to sell everything from quesadillas to cotton candy in the vendor area alongside Business Boulevard.
“The waiting list for vendors is longer than the list of vendors,” she said.
Rinckey said the festival is expected to bring between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors to downtown Eagle River, with many of them lining the Glenn Highway for the Grand Parade, which starts at 11 a.m. Saturday.
With plans for her first Bear Paw nearly complete, Rinckey said the experience has been hectic but worthwhile.
“It’s pretty overwhelming, but it’s fun and it’s really awesome to do something this big for the community,” she said. “I love it.”
For a complete list of festival events, visit the Bear Paw website at bearpawfestival.com.
Email Star editor Matt Tunseth at [email protected]