Hard hats and tattoos

New events added to annual Bear Paw Festival


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Eagle River’s Jim Frey enjoys a ride down a slide with his 16-month-old grandson, Samuel Pullen, at Bear Paw last year.

MIKE NESPER

Five months might sound like a long time, but not to the folks over that the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce.

For that’s when the 29th Bear Paw Festival kicks off.

The festival has grown from a small parade of garbage and fire trucks to a multi-day event featuring everything from carnival rides to a motorcycle show to a dog and owner look-a-like contest.

According to chamber Events Director Merry Braham, the festival began back in 1985, when a group of people decided to put on an art celebration.

“We thought, we’ll have a parade, the people will come downtown and see that Eagle River is really cool,” she said.

That first parade was quite a bit smaller than today’s event.

“We stopped people on the street and said, ‘You’ve got a cool car, can you be in our parade?’” Braham said. “We didn’t do anything like permits. We didn’t realize that we needed one.”

The parade route has expanded to over a mile and a half long.

“We have real floats now and bands,” Braham said.

Last year the festival had 38,000 visits and sold out vendor and parade spaces.

“It has continued to grow each year,” Braham said. “We’ve never had what I consider a slump.”

Popular events include the car show, a 5-kilometer race and Running With the Bears, a 300-yard race because, as Braham said with a laugh, “After that, it’s not fun anymore.”

This year’s theme is “Caution! Bears Working!”

Two new events will be added to the roster: Hard Hats and Carhartts, an outdoor dinner with prizes for the most interesting hard hats and Carhartts, with a few construction games and relays thrown in to make it fun.

And a tattoo contest, as yet untitled.

“When I was growing up, only rock stars had tattoos. Now they’re mainstream,” Braham said. “They’re works of arts for some people.”

This year’s festival takes place July 9-13. A preliminary schedule can be found on the chamber’s website, http://cer.org.

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