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Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival 2024


Dear Friends,

In 2024, we are celebrating the 27th Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival May 6-12. Our theme this year is: Wings ‘Way Over’ the Rockies – The Big Picture. The week-long festival focuses on the interconnections of wildlife, landscapes, people and beyond into the starry skies. Our presenters and field leaders aim to improve our understanding, appreciation, and stewardship of nature through 100+ diverse, educational and engaging events over the 7 days.

Since the festival’s creation, our mandate has remained consistent:

  • Education of valley residents and visitors about birds, wildlife and habitats of the valley
  • Conservation of wildlife and habitats
  • Sustainable economic development that contributes to community economic health

Moving forward we are very pleased to announce that we are working to establish a fund with the Columbia Valley Foundation. The Wings over the Rockies – Ross MacDonald Memorial – Legacy Fund will provide ongoing support to conservation and environmental education projects in the Columbia Valley. More information on this initiative will follow later.

Wings continues to fly with many thanks to our participants each year, the dedicated event volunteers and our many supporters who contribute financially and/or provide items, products or services for our on-line auction.

The board of directors, festival event planner, and many others are working very hard to provide an outstanding festival for 2024!


  • Presentations and outings that showcase regional research and habitat restoration projects.
  • Friday, May 10, live music with Juno Award nominee, Over the Moon duo.
  • Saturday, May 11, our traditional Gala Celebration with Keynote Speaker, Bob McDonald – CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks host.
  • Our much-anticipated Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival On-line Auction ~ May 3 – May 12

Mark your calendars:

The 2024 Calendar of Events preview will begin March 28, 10:00 AM MDT. On-line ticket sales will begin April 9, 10:00 AM MDT.

Come and celebrate with us this Spring and thank you for your support!


Rick Kubian

President, Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival Society



Every year, the Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival is celebrated in the Upper Columbia Valley in early May.

In the words of our patron, Robert Bateman, the world-famous wildlife artist and environmentalist:

“The Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival’ conjures up an image of all that is great about Canada… spectacular scenery, abundant nature and a warm, human spirit of getting together in a worthy cause. The world over, when people think of Canada, they think of the glory of the Rockies. When you combine this with the upper reaches of the mighty Columbia, you have an unsurpassed natural setting. The continuous wetlands along the river are perfect as breeding areas and staging places for a significant number of bird species. This and the many other habitats provide a variety of ecosystems which will bring joy to any naturalist. But the idea of this festival goes far beyond a “get-together” of serious naturalists. It is an ideal chance for everyone to learn and share the excitement of nature “in the flesh” so to speak.”

Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival Society Ethics Statement

This ecosystem grows in value every day as other places like it disappear. A celebration of its wonder and beauty must respect its fragility and ensure that its natural values are protected for the future. Wings Over the Rockies is a festival that contributes to a long-term vision of sustainability for our communities – balancing the needs of human and natural systems.

This annual festival enhances community spirit and cooperation as volunteers, local businesses, naturalists, conservancy groups and special guests work together to provide activities that educate and instill an appreciation of nature. Visitors who come to the valley for this festival make a positive economic impact on our local businesses.

Wings believes that: The internationally recognized Columbia River wetlands and adjacent areas is a special placeNature comes first  Wings showcases the wild areas of the upper Columbia valley and the research to protect and restore its ecosystems. On all our field excursions we tread softly and give wildlife space. Nature needs a hand – people protect what they love but to become stewards people must have an awareness and understanding of nature, a role the Wings festival provides.

These environmental principles guide the Wings festival:

This is a special place

  • Wings celebrates and supports the protection of the internationally recognized Columbia River wetlands and adjacent areas
  • Its unique blend of mountains, wetlands, grasslands and forests are homes for a wide biodiversity of plants and wildlife, including at risk species
  • The festival is located on the unceded shared traditional territory of the Ktunaxa and Secwepemc First Nations, their local bands of Akisqnuk & Shuswap and the chosen home of the Columbia Valley Metis.

No wild, no festival

  • Wild areas inspire people and provide spiritual, health, recreation and economic benefits.
  • There is no substitute for first hand experience with wild lands for connecting people and nature.
  • Wings showcases our region’s wild areas and the research to protect and restore its ecosystems.

Nature comes first

  • Wings activities will not create environmental damage.
  • In order to minimize disturbance of wildlife and habitats our event leaders and participants are asked to.
  • Tread gently, avoiding sensitive areas by keeping to established trails and the main channel of the river.
  • Leave natural and cultural items where they are found.
  • Give wildlife space, especially where photography is concerned.

Nature needs a hand

  • Wings believes that people protect what they love but to become stewards people must have an awareness and understanding of nature, a role that the festival provides.
  • Festival leaders and presenters are chosen for their ability to share their understanding and passion of nature.
  • Wings profiles regional citizen science opportunities that support research and habitat restoration.
  • A portion of festival proceeds is reinvested into habitat conservation and environmental education projects.


Profits from the festival are reinvested into conservation and education projects within the Upper Columbia Valley. Over the years Wings has supported several habitat research, restoration and interpretive projects. Wild Voices for Kids, which sponsors environmental education, is now being implemented throughout the East Kootenay by the Columbia Basin Environmental Education network (CBEEN). The program continues to support students in the Columbia Valley throughout the school year.

The Columbia Valley Greenways Trail Alliance which envisions our region as connected by land and water greenways; and the Project Take Flight raptor rehabilitation cage are all programs which were incubated by Wings and then went on to become successful and independent non-profit societies.

In 2010, Wings awarded a scholarship to a local David Thompson Secondary School student pursuing a career in environmental or natural sciences.

26 Years of Wings over the Rockies Festival

1997 Wings over the Rockies – Wayne Campbell

1998 Migration Sensation – David Bird

1999 no theme – Brian Keating

2000 Art of Nature – Robert Bateman

2001 Joy of Discovery – John Acorn (the “Nature Nut”)

2002 Rivers of the Sky – Bill Lishman (Father Goose)

2003 Wonder of Water, Columbia River Swimmer – Christopher Swain

2004 Nature’s Orchestra – Ian Tamblyn

2005 Birds… Past, Present & Future – Dr. Philip Currie

2006 The Big Year – Brian Keating

2007 Conservation in Action, Working Together for the Birds – Ben Gadd

2008 Follow the Leaders, Mentors in Birding – Bill Lishman

2009 Science Takes Flight – Dick Cannings

2010 Biodiversity, the Web of Life – Dr. Faisal Moola

2011 Celebrating Our Valley, Celebrating the People – Larry Halverson

2012 Our Backyard, the Envy of the World – Bruce Kirkby

2013 Celebrating Mountains, Wetlands & Wildlife – George Sirk

2014 The Mystery of Migration – Brian Keating

2015 Fossils and Feathers – Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron

2016 Reflections on Water – Dr. David Schindler

2017 Birds, Bats, Bears & Beyond – Danny Catt

2018 Webs & Roots: Talk About Networking! – Dr. Suzanne Simard

2019 Go Ahead…Explore! – Laval St. Germain

2020 Raising Awareness…It’s a Matter of Survival – Alex Taylor – cancelled due to Covid -19

2021 Inspired by Nature – Alex Taylor

2022 Celebrating Nature … Winging it for 25 Years – Dr. Harvey Locke

2023 Wildlife & Landscapes – Exploring Connections – Dr. Dale Leckie

Since 1997 Wings has maintained its purpose “to foster immediate and long term positive action on behalf of birds, wildlife and habitat by utilizing and recognizing public education, research results, quality economic development and the skills and resources of our communities, balancing the needs of humans and natural systems.”

History of Wings over the Rockies Nature Festival

It’s about Place

The Columbia River Wetlands is one of the largest intact wetlands on the continent. They stretch 180 km from Canal Flats to Donald (north of Golden) and cover 26,000 hectares. They encompass 16 habitat types (such as marshes, open waters, shrub levees and floodplain forest). They shelter elk, deer, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears, fish, amphibians, insects, more than 260 bird species and nearly 40 threatened animal and plant species. The wetlands are designated as an international important RAMSAR site.

Birthing the Festival

The idea for Wings began in the fall of 1996 with a gathering of motorcyclists at Panorama Mountain Resort. Brian Lyall, then marketing manager of Panorama Resort asked Larry Halverson, Chief Naturalist of Kootenay National Park, to give a presentation to the riders about the area’s natural history. As the group included a number of Harley Davidson enthusiasts, Larry chose to talk about harlequin ducks who are found in fast mountain streams, and are also known as ‘Harleys’. The presentation was so enthusiastically received that Brian and Larry felt that the valley’s nature could appeal to just about any audience. They came up with the idea of a bird festival that would highlight the thousands of birds that migrate though the Columbia Valley each year.

Larry took up the challenge and recruited a diverse array of business, government, education and  environmental representatives. The group continued to grow with more volunteers, sponsors, and knowledgeable event leaders and presenters. In the 1997, this Wings over Rockies Bird Festival fledgling took its first flight. Larry offered this memory, “We saw the festival providing a focus for community action on behalf of the environment by enhancing community engagement and cooperation.”

Deborah Griffith says, “I believe there were 17 of us on the first committee. It was a large group, and we had a lot of laughs as we ventured forward to create the Wings Festival. Someone would provide brownies at almost every meeting.”

Photo: some of the festival founders. Left to right, top to bottom: Brent Stibbs, Dale Genest, Frank Keely. Next row: Sue Chambers, Gerry Wilkie, Larry Halverson. 3rd row: Martha Christie, Deborah Griffith, Elizabeth Shopland. Bottom: Bill Swan. Not shown: Tom Anderson, Ian Cobb, Mary Lou Fiveland, Brian Lyall, Avy Nicholson, Don Steedman, Dee Tokar/Connell, Sandy Traverse, Shannon Zannon

In a few short months the Wings over the Rockies Bird Festival was born. The first festival offered 80 free outdoor events – hikes, bird walks and guided canoe paddles, as well as ticketed presentations. Wings over the Rockies received enthusiastic support from local businesses and wildlife specialists including Robert Bateman who agreed to be a patron, remarked, “What a good idea! The Wings over the Rockies Bird Festival conjures up an image of all that is important about Canada… spectacular scenery, abundant nature and a warm, human spirit of getting together in a worthy cause.”

But the 1997 festival was just a beginning. Wings gradually expanded from a birding event to a true nature festival, one of the larger in Western Canada. It now offers informative sessions about wildlife, ecosystems, local history, agriculture and local businesses. Many respected environmental professionals such as Robert Bateman, Dr. David Schindler, Dr. Suzanne Simard, and Bill Lishman have been keynote speakers. While birds remain at the heart of Wings, the more we understand about their environment, the better we can appreciate and protect them.

Surplus festival funds from the Wings annual fundraising gala dinner and auction have been reinvested into strategic habitat conservation and environmental education projects including waterbird surveys, the SPARK electric vehicle loan project, Project Take Flight Raptor Rehabilitation Flight Cage, Columbia Basin Environmental Education Network programs, Summit Trail Makers, and the Columbia River Wetland Stewardship Partners.

Larry Halverson sums up the value of Wings nicely, “by highlighting the community’s natural attributes, the wetlands, we state what we value. And in doing so, create a significant contribution to the diversity of our local economy, quality of life and protection of natural resources.”

Each May, except for the Covid-19 sabbatical in 2020, this weeklong festival offers a diverse array of 100+ events and presentations that inspire audiences about the nature and culture of the Columbia River Wetlands region in the East Kootenays of British Columbia.

In 2024, Wings presents its 27th annual festival.