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Festival celebrates the return of the bald eagle

  • Written by Deborah Stone
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Numerous events will be held this month to celebrate the return of the bald eagle to the Skagit Valley. Courtesy photo.
Bald eagles are making their annual return to the Skagit Valley this month and to mark this notable occurrence, the Concrete Chamber of Commerce will once again hold its Skagit Eagle Festival.

This is the 24th year for the festival and the second year in its new four-weekend format, offering a wide range of recreation, education and entertainment options throughout the month of January.

“Until 2010, this festival was a two-day event held mostly at the local high school, where performances and presentations were offered along with bus trips to the eagle-watching locations,” explains Valerie Stafford, president of the Concrete Chamber of Commerce. “The volunteers behind that event dropped it in 2009 and the Concrete Chamber picked it up in 2010, turning it into a month-long celebration with more variety and covering a larger portion of eastern Skagit County. Instead of squeezing so many people into one location on one weekend, we give them the option of making their own schedule and attending only the activities they’re most interested in. In this way, they can design their own personalized experiences.”

She adds, “With more smaller venues offering indoor and outdoor activities through the month, this has become a very diverse and dynamic celebration.”

Every Saturday and Sunday in January, visitors can observe eagles at special eagle-watching stations provided by the U.S. Forest Service and staffed by trained volunteers.

Stafford notes that the number of eagles to be seen varies greatly, depending on many factors such as the water level of the river and the weather conditions, but she emphasizes that through the end of January is the period of time when the biggest population is in the area.

Some of the most popular activities associated with the festival are river rafting and float trips along the Skagit River. There are also fish hatchery tours to learn about the salmon that attract the eagles to the area each year.

Families will enjoy the free hayrides at a historic family-owned ranch and free admission to the Concrete Heritage Museum, where the history of the upper Skagit Valley is on display, with a focus on the logging and cement industries. And for those seeking cultural and historical information about eagles, there will be guided walks and lectures given by the knowledgeable folks at the Skagit River Bald Eagle Interpretive Center in Rockport.

Throughout the month, numerous one-time special events are also planned, including photography workshops and wildlife presentations at the historic Concrete Theatre, Native American dancing, drumming and crafts at the Marblemount Community Hall, book and bake sales, a fundraising chili feed and a unique art walk and contest featuring hand-crafted artwork made exclusively from recycled items.

New this year is Puget Sound Energy Day in Concrete on Saturday, January 21st, during which the utility company will offer presentations and performances at its facility.

The newly-designed celebration is a collaboration of dozens of agencies, businesses and non-profit organizations in eastern Skagit County, who invite visitors from all over the region to experience the natural beauty of the area and enjoy the friendly, small-town environment.

Stafford says, “The number of visitors has increased steadily over the years, with many families planning their winter vacations around the arrival of the eagles. We see a lot of people from the Seattle/Tacoma area, since it’s a fairly easy drive from there and an affordable day trip.” She adds, “I think the event is popular because it’s such a unique experience to see so many of these majestic birds all at once. And the winter weather adds a rugged kind of charm to it. You bundle up and trek along the river or through the trees and are rewarded by spotting these incredible birds. In the process, you learn from the experts about the river, salmon and all kinds of wildlife, as well as environmental issues.”

For more information about the event, visit www.skagiteaglefestival.com or call the Concrete Chamber of Commerce at 360-853-8784.

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