100 events over seven days

By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Wings Over the Rockies Nature Festival took flight earlier this week on May 9 and will run until May 15, with 100 events over the course of seven days. This is the Wings over the Rockies’ 25th festival after a short hiatus due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We had to take a sabbatical; we cancelled the 2020 festival due to COVID. Last year we went online only and had only a few hundred in attendance, so this would have been our 26th annual festival had it not been for the pandemic,” shares Ross MacDonald, President for Wings over Rockies. “A nature festival of our magnitude is one of the largest and most varied in Western Canada which requires a tremendous amount of planning and expense, and we have 75 volunteers giving their time.”

Events are scheduled to take place in the Columbia Valley ranging from Wasa to Golden. This year’s key-note speaker will be internationally-known conservationist, writer, and photographer Dr. Harvey Locke, who is also one of the founders of the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative. Dr. Locke will speak at the gala banquet on Saturday, May 14, which also happens to be International Migratory Bird Day. 

“It’s an opportunity to hear a world-renowned naturalist presenter sharing his insight on how to protect biodiversity,” says MacDonald. With so many diverse events to choose from there is truly something for everyone. 

Some events are recreational like the guided hikes beginning at Columbia Lake or paddles up the Columbia River, while some are more hands-on and educational. 

“All events and tours are all led by experts. They might be bird, wildlife, or plant-based,” says MacDonald. One of this year’s facilitators is Ben Mitchell-Banks of the Lake Windermere District Rod and Gun Club. Mitchell-Banks’ work with the Abel Creek Restoration project recently earned the club the honour of the Roderick-Haig Brown Conservation Award last month. Mitchell-Banks will be leading a tour on Friday, May 13, called Connecting Lakes to Mountain Streams. 

“It feels very rewarding to be able to meet people face-to-face again in the outdoors,’’ says Mitchell-Banks. “I will be talking about Kokanee salmon, their life cycle, and their habitat. I hope people will walk away with a better understanding of them, their habitat and community at large.”

This year’s festival will also host renowned band, The Wardens, who are set to play the Columbia Valley Centre on Friday evening. “This will be the third time they’ve come to Wings for a performance,” says MacDonald. “They will be singing, sharing stories, and photographs of what it’s like to protect the beautiful wilderness that surrounds us in the Rocky Mountains.” 

Any surplus of the organisation’s needs is always contributed back into supporting environmental education and conservation projects. “It is the revenue from our online auction, which runs from May 6 to 15, that generates the funds for special projects,” says MacDonald. “Last year we supported Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network to buy a class set of binoculars to support students to go out into the environment.” 

A free event for kids is happening on Saturday at Pothole Park in Invermere. “With over a half a dozen kids festivals over the years the focus remains at introducing children to nature,” adds MacDonald. Main Street Fun and Games owner Dee Connell has been instrumental as one of the original organisers for this festival for children over the last 25 years. 

“We are providing several different crafts, as well as bringing in Sprinkles the Clown, a children’s entertainer who has been very popular at past festivals,” says Connell. “There are also many community groups helping out like the library, Columbia Valley Pride, The Makerspace, The Youth Hub and many more! We want kids to have a great experience. There will be things to learn, things to see, and things to do. It’s going to be a great day!”

For those a little older this year’s festival will ultimately showcase the research and conservation projects that are happening in the area and how the public can get involved though citizen science and other programs being offered. 

“The goal every year is to excite people, and get them interested and knowledgeable about this place, because if people don’t understand and appreciate where they live and visit, then they won’t protect it,” says MacDonald. “No nature, no festival, we are fortunate to be so close to the Columbia River as it is the basis of the biodiversity here. I hope people take away how fortunate we are to have this wonderful environment here and recognize that it doesn’t maintain itself without a lot of work.”

To find out more about this year’s events and register for tickets visit wingsovertherockies.org.