Visitors to the Sandpiper Golf Course took in the eagle extravaganza at the 24th annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Fewer people, but positive eagle numbers at Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

The rain saw fewer people than last year attend the festival

The rain may have kept some visitors away from the Bald Eagle Festival this year, but strong salmon numbers meant there were plenty of eagle sightings to go around.

“From an environmental standpoint, it was fantastic,” festival organizer Jo-Anne Chadwick said.

RELATED: Bald Eagle Festival welcomes tourists, salmon, eagles to Harrison Mills

According to Chadwick, festival volunteers counted around 3,400 eagles on Saturday (Nov. 16) and just over 4,000 eagles on Sunday (Nov. 17). The salmon numbers were also higher than expected, particularly with so many concerns about the runs this year.

“We were all concerned about whether there would be enough salmon, because of the condition of the salmon over the declining numbers,” she said. “We were pleasantly surprised to see that there were a lot of carcasses up there.

“So the health of the area is still really good, and I think that was where the focus of creating this whole festival began. Just highlighting the area in a positive way, and making sure all the people wanted to protect it,” she continued. “So at the core of the event, that’s really what it’s about.”

Although the eagle numbers were a success, the human visitors were down by a third compared to last year, which saw record attendance.

RELATED: Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival explodes in popularity, draws thousands to Mission, Harrison Mills

“We had 5,000 people arrive over the weekend (last year) and it was a lot,” Chadwick explained. “So this year we really tried to think of different ways to lessen the pressure.”

In anticipation for potential traffic jams and parking problems like they saw last year — at one point, Tapedera Estates had to close its gates because there was no parking left — Chadwick developed new strategies for managing the flow of visitors, including setting up new parking areas slightly further from the viewing sights.

RELATED: Eagles return to the Fraser Valley

However, consistent drizzle meant those measures weren’t needed for this year. The festival only saw between 600 and 800 people through each site every day — a number which was on par for years past.

“Because the weather was very damp, and not predicted to be nice at all, definitely there wasn’t the thousand people a day,” she said. But, “he people that come are highly engaged — especially if they’re coming out and the weather’s not looking great. You know those are the people that actually are there because they want to learn about eagles and nature and the environment.”

Although the festival finished less than a week ago, Chadwick said the team is already looking at plans for next year: the 25th anniversary of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.

“We haven’t got the plan totally worked out, but we’re thinking of shaking up the whole event,” she said. “Without overloading volunteer capacity, trying to stretch the season out so not everyone is thinking they have to come that one weekend.

“Because the reality is, the eagles are there on the weekend, the eagles are there today,” she continued. “So the opportunities for people to really experience what they want to experience is there far beyond the two days of the festival.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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