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Bear Creek Salmon Festival offers food, music and fun for all ages

There can be a bit of the wow factor in discovering what a net dipped in Bear Creek brings up. Submitted photo
North Mountain Nature Center volunteers show kids what kinds of creatures live in Bear Creek.

The pandemic reminded us that all good things must come to an end — at least temporarily.

But the return of Ashland’s Bear Creek Salmon Festival proves the adage that good things come to those who wait.

After a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, the free event returns to North Mountain Park Nature Center Saturday, Oct. 1, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with music, food, and all the activities that have made the festival a fall favorite with Rogue Valley families.

“We’ve really missed seeing our community during the pandemic,” said coordinator Jen Aguayo, who works at North Mountain Park Nature Center for Ashland Parks and Recreation Department.

“The Bear Creek Salmon Festival is very local. We see our friends and neighbors, share food, groove to good music, and the kids explore the park and play. It’s a joyful connection for all ages,” she said.

Local experts will be on hand with outdoor activities for all ages. They will include interactive exhibits, kids’ activities, live animals, salmon education, Native American demonstrations, spin-casting, and storytelling.

“We’re so excited about our music lineup this year,” Aguayo said.

Musical acts are booked all day, beginning with guitar and smooth vocals from Greta Gardiner. The next set will feature the three-part harmonies, guitar, banjo and fiddle of Bekkah and the Dusty Rubies. Festival goers will end the day dancing and grooving to the music of Frankie Hernandez and his band.

“In between sets at the pavilion, visitors can head down to the salmon cooking area to listen to the graceful guitar and flute of Tommy Graven,” Aguayo said.

Did someone say salmon cooking? Well, it is the Salmon Festival, and Tom Smith will do the honors, cooking salmon the traditional way, on stakes over a carefully tended fire pit.

Libby VanWyhe is the manager of North Mountain Park Nature Center.

“As long as I’ve been here, Tom has joined us to cook the salmon,” she said. “He brings all his intention to the cooking and the cultural preservation it represents.”

The Cultural and Ecological Enhancement Network will be grinding acorns at the festival.

“I love the Native American participation and representation at this event,” VanWyhe said.

The festival honors the return of the fall Chinook salmon, with the goals of teaching people of all ages about the watershed and sharing opportunities for stewardship of the bioregion.

“We do this while having a great time, enjoying nature as a community,” she said.

Although there will be opportunities for most to have a taste of the salmon Smith cooks over the fire pit, there won’t be enough to serve everybody a salmon dinner.

“That’s why we have Fatso’s Cheketos as this year’s food vendor,” VanWyhe said. The popular Medford keto food truck has made a name for itself by offering people’s favorite foods in keto versions — with low carbs and sugar.

Aguayo says the food truck will serve up a variety of dishes.

“There will be plenty of gluten-free options,” she said. “They also will have a vegetarian dish, a kid-friendly plate, and something cold and refreshing to drink.”

Organizers are promoting the festival as a zero-waste event, asking visitors to bring reusable water bottles or cups. The food truck offerings will be on reusable dishes provided by festival partner Lend-Me-a-Plate. Volunteers will help wash and sanitize the dishes, and help eliminate the pounds of garbage normally associated with an event of its size.

“We have several different shifts so that volunteers can help and still enjoy the event,” Aguayo said.

People interested in helping can contact volunteer coordinator Sulaiman Shelton at 541-552-2264, or email him at sulaiman.shelton@ashland.or.us.

Aguayo gets a lot of satisfaction being involved in the event.

“I love connecting people to their habitat,” she said. “The day is focused on salmon, local watersheds, and all the ways we are intertwined. And we are just as dependent on healthy watersheds as the salmon are.”

VanWyhe, who became the center manager in 2013, started working at North Mountain Park as a volunteer in 2008, also helping with the festival, now in its 16th year.

“There’s something for everyone at the event,” she said. “Plus, people love exploring the creek, looking for aquatic macro invertebrates. What’s more fun than looking for water bugs with kids?”

A few years ago, the festival incorporated a bead-bracelet activity that’s like a scavenger hunt. “Kids love it!” VanWyhe said.

As a way of encouraging kids to explore all aspects of the festival, beads are given away in each zone.

“Kids collect the colored beads to make a bracelet,” she said, “and a complete bracelet earns a salmon prize.”

North Mountain Park is at 620 N. Mountin Avenue in Ashland. Admission to the festival is free.

For updates and more information, go online to bearcreeksalmonfestival.net.

Reach writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.