The Bear Paw Festival celebrates 38 years

Telling Alaska’s Story
The Bear Paw Festival celebrates 38 years
Published: Jul. 10, 2023 at 7:28 PM AKDT
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EAGLE RIVER, Alaska (KTUU) - Nestled between two major river valleys, Eagle River is a small town with a big sense of community. Every year in July, the population jumps by the thousands, all because of one festival that’s been going strong for 38 years. “Basecamp for Adventure” is the theme of this year’s Bear Paw Festival.

With classic events like the slippery salmon olympics, grand parade, amusement rides, food and more, it’s a popular festival for not just Alaskans, but for all.

Britney Olsen is the executive director for the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce. She was born and raised in Eagle River and has been going to the festival for as long as she can remember.

“Every year, it seems to be something different that I remember and it’s always something that brings together my family, my friends, lots of different people in our community,” she said.

Community is a key word to describe how the festival got started in the first place.

“Back in 1985, there was a core group of people that, you know, really cared about the community and decided that they wanted to have a festival,” said Leslie Lance, co-chair of the Bear Paw Festival.

Each year, local organizations and nonprofits came together as a way to raise money.

“That’s just sort of evolved over the years to where we’re at today. We’re getting ready to celebrate our 38th anniversary of Bear Paw Festival,” Lance said.

Over the course of five days, tens of thousands of people flock to Eagle River to experience such a key event for the community.

“It has grown with our community and to have so many organizations, to have so many businesses, to have so many volunteers return — it is part of who we are not only as a community but also as individuals out here,” Olsen said.

Click here to visit the website and learn about the event and activities lined up for the weekend. The Bear Paw Festival averages around 40,000 visitors each year. After a pandemic pause in 2020, the 2021 crowd was roughly 60,000.

“To be able to say that we’ve been doing this since 1985, is really again, part of that identity, I would say in our community as something that the Chugiak-Eagle River is bringing to Alaska,” Olsen said.