Huge crowds make Bear Paw 2019 one for the ages
Massive crowds turned out for Bear Paw over the weekend as people weary of scorching temperatures and smoky skies allowed the 2019 festival to beat out dipnetting as the hottest ticket in Southcentral.
Event organizers don’t charge admission so getting hard numbers on attendance is tricky, but the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber does have one way to estimate crowd size: trash. Rinckey said the group’s Dumpsters have never before been filled by the end of the festival.
“We filled them up by 7 o’clock last night,” chamber executive director Debbie Rinckey said Sunday afternoon as the festival wound down under a warm drizzle — the first rain in more than a month.
Rinckey said the chamber also had to up its Port-a-potty order as the crowd swelled.
“It’s been amazing,” Rinckey said. “We’re super happy.”
Signs the festival would be one to remember were everywhere starting Friday, when huge throngs of teddy bear-toting toddlers packed the hill in Town Square Park for the annual Teddy Bear Picnic. The turnout was so large, organizers had to run next door to Carrs for more hot dogs.
“We’ve gone through 1,250 of them,” said Julie Estey of Matanuska Electric Association, which co-sponsored the event with Carrs and Alaska Regional Hospital.
Painted faces and balloons were everywhere at the picnic, which featured both the cleanest drag race and smelliest shoe display in the state in the Lunchbox Derby and Odor Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest.
In the derby, children were tasked with creating cars from vegetables. One contestant, 10-year-old Lizzie Dale of Eagle River, said her secret was securing her potato wheels with specialized bolts.
“Last year I used turnips — bad idea,” she said after sending her vehicle down a short ramp. “This year I used carrots — good idea.”
At the rotten sneaker contest, the Hamm family once again out-stunk the competition as Bennett Hamm took first place with a pair of stinky sneakers he said acquired their funk through hours of skateboarding and helping his mom, Lauren, in the garden.
“We’ve got a bunch of rough-and-tumble kids,” said Lauren Hamm, whose son, Hunter, won the local and national contest in 2018.
Members of the family have won the local and national contest the last four years in a row, with Hamm cousins Senneca and Connor Slocombe winning in 2018 and 2016, respectively. For winning this year, the family received $200 and a trip to New York City for the national contest, which awards a $2,500 top prize.
Eagle River loves a parade
On Saturday, people began staking their claims to real estate alongside the Old Glenn Highway and Business Boulevard by plopping down camp chairs two hours before the 11 a.m. Grand Parade.
Things kicked into high gear at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, when 597 runners — 34 more than last year — raced through the streets and bike trails around Eagle River for the Bear Paw 5k, which saw a pair of local winners in Chugiak High runner Michael Earnhart and CHS grad Hannah Booher.
Even the parade was a bit extra, taking about 10 minutes longer than its allotted one hour to snake through the town’s main drag. Former chamber special events director Merry Braham and her husband, Mitch, were honored as Grand Marshals for the event, whose theme was “Shake, Rattle and Rebuild.” Many of the floats referenced the Nov. 30, 2018 earthquake and the area’s ability to recover from the magnitude 7.1 earthquake — one by the local Elks Club featured children pounding hammers while framing up a new building.
Rinckey said this year’s slightly revamped festival grounds and some new events — as well as a second night for the hugely popular music and beer garden — may have helped spur attendance.
“People are coming up to me and saying they want us to have that twice a month,” Rinckey said.
The weather was mild all weekend, with overcast skies a welcome break from the high 80s of the week before. Big lines formed behind food vendors as the smell of Polynesian barbecue and cotton candy wafted over the festival grounds, which encompassed Business Boulevard and Town Square Park. All-Alaskan events dominated the landscape, with everything from a salmon cook-off to an Xtratuf decorating contest.
Sen. Dan Sullivan made an appearance at the annual Slippery Salmon Olympics, where he and Kirk Alkire — an Army veteran who led the effort to rename “Gold Star Peak” near Eklutna Lake — competed in the salmon-and-soda relay race.
From the slimy spectacle of a senator running with a slippery salmon to the silliness of the human foosball tournament to the skill on display Sunday at Bear Paw’s Got Talent, big crowds of families turned out to laugh, cheer and come together for one of the state’s most popular summertime events.
Rinckey said the event couldn’t come together without the efforts of dozens of volunteers, including the crew of worker bees led by Leslie Lance, who is stepping down after 20 years of managing the logistics of the massive festival. From emptying trash to setting down (and taking apart) event venues, Rinckey said “Leslie’s Crew” is the heart and soul of the operation. And to honor Lance, Rinckey said her name will live on in Bear Paw tradition.
“We’re still going to call it ‘Leslie’s Crew,’” she said.
Fish and family
The festival has become a family tradition for people from Anchorage to the Mat-Su, and that’s the case for Comset Chopped Salmon Throwdown third-place finishers Rayshana and mother Vern Alexander, who cooked on behalf of “Pops” Alexander, an Army veteran and longtime area resident who inspired the duo’s “Special Sauce Glazed Salmon.”
“We’re here in honor of dad today,” Rayshana Alexander said of her late father. “Now he’s at Fort Rich, bless his soul.”
The cook-off included a raffle in which each of the six entries were raffled off to the crowd. Eagle River’s Marcy Wilder won the second-place salmon tortas cooked up by Barb Leaf and Mike Troit. Wilder said it’s the second year in a row she’s won a dish cooked by Leaf, who happens to be her co-worker at Greatland Property Management.
“I know it’s going to be amazing,” Wilder said before taking a bite. “Everything she cooks is delicious, she’s always spoiling us at work.”
Bear Paw wrapped Sunday afternoon with the annual Rotary Club I-Did-A-Duck raffle, which saw nearly 2,000 colorful plastic ducks splashed with a couple hundred gallons of water down a short plastic runway and into a kiddie pool, where Bear Paw Queen Katie Fletcher was waiting to pick the winners in the raffle, which featured a $1,000 first prize and dozens of smaller prizes.
Rinckey said the chamber is already hard at work planning for next year’s event, and hinted they’ve already come up with a theme for the 2020 event.
“It might just have something to do with the Roaring 20’s.”
Editor’s note: This story has been altered from a previous version to remove the names of the Chopped Salmon Throwdown winners.
2019 BEAR PAW FESTIVAL EVENT WINNERS (provided by Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce)
Bear Paw Royalty
Miss Bear Paw: Katie Fletcher
Bear Paw Princess: Kylie Grue
Bear Paw Ambassadors: Natasha Wanner and Sydney Kelley
Bear Paw Community Service Awards
Community Service Award: Dawn Hoxie, Northrim Bank
President’s Award: Matt Tomter, Matanuska Brewing
Community Service Organization: Eagle River-Chugiak Parks and Recreawtion
Bear Paw Classic 5K race
Men - Michael Earnhart
Women - Hannah Booher
Odor Eaters Rotten Sneakers
1st - Bennett Hamm - Age 7
2nd - Benjamin Thrasher - Age 7
3rd - Sean Ferguson - Age 10
1st - Connor Slocombe, 12 feet, 6 inches
2nd - Bryston Toth, 7 feet, 6 inches
3rd - Oliver Taal, 6 feet, 6 inches
Classic Car Show
People’s Choice - Dean Cox, 1980 Triumph tr8
Best in Show - Red Firebird
Best Truck - Orange truck
Classic/Antique - 1969 black Ford Falcon
Muscle Car - 1969 black Ford Falcon
Kiwanis International and Boys and Girls Club Eagle River Kid’s Button Art Contest
Winner: Madison Bauer
Chugiak-Eagle River Young Professional’s Group Alaska Backyard Style Cornhole Tournament
Team Chandler and Chandler (Bruce and Chandler)
Grand Prize - Girl Scouts of America - All Chugiak Eagle River Girl’s Troops
Best Theme - Eagle River Orthodontics
Judges’ Choice - Birchwood Camp
Honorable Mentions: Eagle River Elks 2682, Yahweh Worship Center, Alaska Quality Septic
MTA Slippery Salmon Olympics
1st Place Holy Mackerel - St. Andrews Parish - (Josh Cordes and Jake Paolucci)
2nd Place Slippery Salmon Clean-Up Crew (Quinn Rinckey and Alyssa Andrews)
All Seasons Clothing Xtra Tuf Adeventures
1st Place – Katie Fletcher
2nd Place – The Dolan’s
3rd Place – Elsie Davis
4th Place – Lego Boots
5th Place (TIE) – The Corbett’s & Veronica Hoxie
Chugiak-Eagle River Women in Business Lego Competition
The Art of Trash
First Place: Andy Ironhart
Bear Paw’s Got Talent
Best Vocalist & Bear Paw’s Choice – Lacy Jay
Best Musician – Elaine Flagg
Best Variety Act – Holly Jensen
Winners: Team Olimpia
VCA Dog & Owner Look-a-Like
Summer Family Relay
“The Landers Family”
Comset Chopped Salmon Throwdown
1. Coho Crushers
2. Senior Duo (Barb Leaf and Mike Troit)
3. Pops Alexander (Rayshana Alexander and Vern Alexander)
VCA Dog/Owner Look-A-Like Contest
1st- Eli and Gideon Bloom with their dog Darth
2nd- Sadie Lamarche with Lulu
3rd- Hayden O’Neill with Pixie
4th- Glacier Velasquez with Cinder
1st- Kim Berger with Coco
2nd- Patty Hickok with Charlie
3rd- Felisha Showmaker with Bear