Thousands of people went on safari over the weekend without having to leave Eagle River.
“The festival’s gone great,” said Bear Paw Festival director Merry Braham on Sunday, July 15, as this year’s jungle-themed festival began to wind down. “We’ve had tons of crowds.”
Saturday’s Grand Parade was jam packed, as mobs of spectators turned out under cloudy skies for the annual festival’s main event. The skies opened Saturday evening and for parts of Sunday, but Braham said the showers didn’t seem to deter people from making the trip to the downtown festival area around Town Square Park.
“We don’t let the weather stop us,” Braham said.
The festival began on Wednesday, July 11, when the chamber handed out a slew of community service awards to locals and businesses for their efforts in the local community over the past year (see page 23).
Chugiak’s own Golden Wheel Amusements again provided the carnival rides and games, which began running Thursday and didn’t shut down until Sunday evening.
On Thursday night, Wendy Martin and Taylor Andrews won the Miss and Mr. Bear Paw titles, and the pair was a constant presence — along with their fellow pageant contestants — throughout the festival. Martin and Andrews’ first official order of business was to preside over the Teddy Bear Picnic on Friday, an event that attracted hundreds of toy-toting kids to frolic on the grassy hills in the park.
Martin attending the festival is something kids in Eagle River look forward to all year long.
“We love Bear Paw,” Martin said. “I come every year.”
The 16 teens who participated in the pageant were among the most visible festival participants, helping out with everything from the Slippery Salmon Olympics to the ice cream eating contest. The group even mixed in time for a movie Saturday night.
“Bear Paw really brought us all together,” said pageant contestant Bryan Bosserman.
Other festival participants have been together longer than just the few weeks leading up to Bear Paw. For Ryan McMurray and Ryan Landers, the chance to participate in the IBEW Jammin’ Salmon Cook-Off together trumped any animosity the men might have as football coaches at rival high schools.
“We can come together as one,” joked Landers, who coaches at Chugiak High.
The duo — who graduated from Chugiak — proved they’re no slouches in the kitchen, winning first place for Best Smoked Salmon.
McMurray, an assistant at Eagle River High, said his partnership with Landers dates back decades.
“Eighth grade locker partners, college roommates…” he said.
“We’ve known each other way too long,” he said with a laugh.
Megan Lierman and Molly Loegelin won the cook-off’s Best Overall Dish prize for their hastily-prepared gluten-free salmon chowder. The two Eagle River women said they used a recipe devised only the night before.
“We were just throwing stuff into the pot,” Lierman said.
The two could barely contain themselves after winning, jumping for joy as their names were called.
“Next year we’re going to enter all the categories,” Lierman said.
Logelin said the chance to have such a fun event right here in town is what makes Bear Paw so special.
“It’s a great time for kids, family, hanging out,” she said. “I’m glad it’s in Eagle River. It’s a good event.”
Braham said the community spirit the annual festival fosters is what makes organizing the event worthwhile.
“It’s really fun to see everybody come out and enjoy it,” she said.
She said more than 200 volunteers were needed to put on the event, which the Chugiak-Eagle River chamber spends nearly all year planning.
Hearing stories about how much fun people had at Bear Paw, she said, is he favorite part of the all-consuming job.
“The best part is to be sitting in one of the restaurants and overhearing someone talk about what a great time they had,” she said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or [email protected].