Wings Over the Rockies Nature Festival 2023
LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT
Celebrating Nature … By Ross MacDonald, Festival President
Our theme for our 26th Festival, “Wildlife & Landscape – Exploring Connections”, recognizes the vital role that the outdoors plays in our physical and mental well-being but also that humans have a responsibility to protect these special natural places.
I cannot praise enough our new Wing’s festival planner, board of directors, volunteers and affiliate partners who have moved heaven and earth to develop a full suite of events.
Here is what the Wings Nature Festival looks like in 2023:
- 100 Events both outdoor and indoor
- Photography contest – with categories for kids and adults
- Online auction that is open to bidders from across Canada – filled with adventurous experiences that you will want to save for yourself!
- Sean McCann – Live music concert
- The annual Saturday evening celebration Soireé with keynote speaker, Dr. Dale Leckie
Please join us in 2023 when Wings celebrates our 26th year as one of the largest nature festivals in Canada!
Wings is grateful for the support of its local sponsors, businesses, volunteers, donors and grantors. We couldn’t fly without you!
MESSAGE FROM THE FESTIVAL PATRON
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 place. Nature 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.
WINGS OVER THE ROCKIES LEGACY
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.
25 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
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 expert led 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 2022 Wings presents its 25th festival.