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

Weather, news, social media contribute to high turnout, says president

The 23rd annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival (FVBEF) had one of its busiest years yet, with thousands coming to the Fraser Valley to see the majestic white-headed raptors in action.

The festival’s president, Jo-Anne Chadwick, said this year’s numbers were the highest she’s seen in her 13 years with FVBEF.

“It was a slow growth but this year exploded because all the factors were there: we had the media, the weather and all the social media. I think social media is playing a larger and larger role in people finding us,” Chadwick said.

“We are in our 23rd year, so the word of mouth and the sharing on Facebook seems to get broader and broader every year.”

Eagles have no shortage of food in the Harrison River this time of year. (Photo/Bob Friesen)

Last year, with less than ideal weather, Tapadera Estates saw about 900 people come out over the entire weekend, while this year it drew in more than 2,000. Kilby Historic Site saw close to 3,500 visitors.

“We do have people come from as far as Germany, the UK and all over Canada and the States [and] some from Australia,” Chadwick said, adding that most foreigners come out regardless of weather. It’s the British Columbians that plan their trips around the sun.

“The people from far away are coming regardless, but the locals, if they can see four or five days out that [the weather] is looking good, they’re willing to drive and stay over night.”

Related: Record-breaking bald eagle numbers predicted in Harrison Mills this fall

Related: PHOTOS: Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

While the sun drew people out to the Sts’ailes Flats, it also draws eagles up into the sky. It’s a beautiful sight, to watch the eagles soar by the hundreds, expanding their two-metre wide wings to absorb the sunlight and use thermals to glide easily above the river.

But it does make it more difficult to view them up close. Eagle-watching is best done on a drearier day.

“On the days when it’s a little bit cloudy and [there’s] a little drizzle, the eagles aren’t flying anywhere,” Chadwick said. “They are down a bit lower and easier to locate.”

Still, the completely volunteer-run festival was easily one of the best for tourist numbers.

“We couldn’t have been more thrilled with all the hard work, all the volunteer time, all the vendors and all the exhibitors that come out for the weekend. Everyone left with a big smile on their face.”

Next year the festival will be preparing for big numbers, Chadwick added.

“Now that we have had these amazing numbers of people coming out to participate, we are going to have to work even harder on parking and that sort of thing,” she said. “We are creating a traffic management plan for next year. And that’s going to be a big focus going forward.”

Liam Sullivan, captain and new owner of Fraser River Safaris with co-caption Syd Bertram. The pair took dozens of tourists out on the Fraser River this weekend for some of the best possible bald eagle views. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)

Liam Sullivan recently quit the logging business and decided to purchase Fraser River Safari Tours. Three months in, Sullivan said the eagle season has been good to him as a new business owner.

“I combined all the things I like to do, talking, driving and getting outdoors,” he said. “What we saw this weekend and today was absolutely fantastic.”

Social media may have helped raise awareness about the incredible natural phenomenon, but there is nothing like seeing the real thing, Chadwick said.

“You can watch it on a video or you can see it on Instagram but to be there and to see why it is the way it is and to hear the sounds and [smell] the smells, even if they aren’t all great smells…” she said with a laugh. “If we can create a few young ambassadors, who are going to care after we’re all gone, that’s what it’s all about.”

Biologist and conservationist David Hancock takes the front seat on a Fraser River Safari tour. His enthusiasm is infectious to tourists and locals who come for a closer look at the bald eagles. (Nina Grossman/The Observer)



nina.grossman@ahobserver.com

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