The popular local band Brother will break out its bagpipes, the Salmon Story Tent will open for business and there’ll be hands-on activities galore, but to North Mountain Park Nature Center manager Libby VanWyhe, the stars of the 13th annual Bear Creek Salmon Festival may be the salmon themselves.
No, not the fish that’ll be roasted by native American elder Tom Smith as part of his demonstration of traditional cooking techniques, but the living salmon currently fighting their way up Bear Creek to spawn who made a cameo appearance recently, just in time for attendees to see what all the fuss is about.
“The salmon are here,” VanWyhe said. “They actually came just a few days ago. Usually they arrive a week or two after the salmon festival. This is the first time in my experience that they were a little early and we actually have them here migrating and spawning in Bear Creek while we’re celebrating the salmon festival. It’s so awesome.”
The festival, held every fall since 2005 and billed as a celebration of the local watershed and the return of salmon to Bear Creek, runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at North Mountain Park and is free to the public. More than 30 volunteers — many of them experts in their field — representing 25 organizations will staff booths placed throughout the park. Focuses of those booths include educating the public about wildlife habitat and how to become better stewards of the watershed.
The festival is kid-centered, too, however, and will include a craft booth where children can make a salmon-themed musical instrument (a salmon shaker filled with beans), a story tent where volunteers will read and fly-casting.
“We have a lot of different exhibitors, from environmental education and conservation organizations all across the valley, and most of them are partners,” VanWyhe said. “We work together on a lot of different projects and we collaborate through an organization called SOREEL [Southern Oregon Regional Environmental Education Leaders]. … And several of them actually help in a more concerted way on our planning committee.”
VanWyhe said the activities and exhibits were informed by the overarching theme and designed to spark curiosity.
“And they all have either an educational message or a hands-on activity for all ages,” she said of the stations. “We try to encourage (the volunteers) to generate some sort of science inquiry or craft activity for each of their exhibit tables.
“Exhibitors are going to be all throughout the park, and that’s one of the things that we want people to realize, that we have a lot more going on in the natural area of the park and it’s not just the demonstrations in the nature center. The tables will be all the way out to Bear Creek in some instances. So we encourage visitors to walk throughout the park to find all the little nooks where we have exhibitors stashed on the trails.”
The variety means there’s something for just about everybody.
Inside the Salmon Story Tent — a giant, brightly colored blow-up salmon — volunteers will read stories about the local watershed. Costumes such as birds, mushrooms and bears will be available, too, for kids visiting the tent.
Smith will be cooking salmon on carved poles over a fire pit, and the meat is expected to be ready to eat shortly after the festival begins. Samplers will be served.
The festival will also include the Salmon Spiral Labyrinth which kids can traverse, stone by stone. A trail of river rocks 28 feet in diameter, the labyrinth spirals to a center, symbolically modeling the salmon’s life cycle.
As far as live music goes, Brother, which has performed at the Green Show, is only the first of five acts lined up to take the stage today. A native American hand-drumming performance will begin at noon, JenUwin of JenUwin Playtime will take over at 1 p.m. — her performance will include bubbles and a “salmon parade” across the spiral labyrinth — and folk musician Phoenix Sigalov will take over at 2. Lastly, at 3 p.m., Montana Soul will perform.
The Sultan’s Delight food truck will be on site selling its Greek, Mediterranean and Turkish specialties, such as gyros and falafels.
VanWyhe and the rest of the nature center staff set up the festival Friday afternoon, getting to work shortly after a third-grade class from Walker Elementary paid a visit to learn about the local geology.
“It’s incredibly busy, but it’s a controlled chaos,” VanWyhe said of the festival, “because we do so much pre-planning.”
VanWyhe added that nature center coordinator Jennifer Aguayo was put in charge of organizing the festival this year and has managed to pull everything together swimmingly.
“(Aguayo’s) been personally spearheading this whole event,” VanWyhe said. “She’s doing it for the first time and she’s doing an amazing job.
“It’s amazing how it’s all coming together. (Aguayo) really took pains to make sure that everything was organized in advance and that we have new systems to make sure that everyone knows exactly what their jobs are.”
For more information, visit bearcreeksalmonfestival.net, or call the North Mountain Park Nature Center at 541-488-6606.
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.