Reg Wescott of Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) puts on a public information session at the soon-to-be-operational MARS facility in on Williams Beach Road last fall alongside one of the organization’s Ambassadors.

Eagle Festival grounded temporarily

For the past 11 years, the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS) has been hosting their annual Eagle Fest event as one of their major fundraisers and educational events right here in Campbell River at the Maritime Heritage Centre.

The festival has been providing education about eagles, their habitat and the impact of human activity on their environment in an attempt to strengthen community partnerships and support for their conservation efforts. Speakers, interactive displays for children and exhibits from various conservation groups have emphasized the protection of habitat and nesting sites and showed people how they can reduce the harm inflicted on the birds through their actions.

This year, however, without being able to secure a major sponsor for the event – along with just being far too busy with everything else they are trying to accomplish right now – the organization has been forced to cancel.

Pearl McKenzie, vice president of MARS, says the organization will instead be turning its attention to the completion of their new wildlife rescue hospital, recovery and rehabilitation facility in Merville, which they must have complete and operational by the end of May as their current location has been sold.

They also have other educational and fundraising events scheduled for this year, which they hope to use to fill the gap left by the cancellation of Eagle Fest.

“We sat down as a fundraising committee and we discussed what we should do, and we weighed the facts that we have to move by the middle of May, we’re right in the middle trying to get our new wildlife hospital built and our volunteers are committing a huge amount of effort and energy to doing that,” McKenzie says. “And since Eagle Fest would fall right in the middle of that concentrated work effort, and when you look at our Walk for Wildlife being scheduled in Campbell River in June, we thought that would be the opportunity we were looking for to reach out to the Campbell River community and the best course of action was to focus our energies on that instead,” after they get all moved over to their new facility.

The Walk for Wildlife – which will be taking up from where the lack of Eagle Fest for this year leaves off – is scheduled for June 4 along the Seawalk.

“We’ll have our educational birds out on the waterfront and we’re hoping to get some naturalists to lead some of the walks and talk about the flora and the fauna along the way,” McKenzie says. “And we’ll use this is an opportunity to try and get school kids out and their parents and their grandparents out and learning about the environment.”

But they’re not giving up on Eagle Fest forever, McKenzie says. In fact, they are hoping this will just be a one-year hiatus.

“The Maritime Heritage Centre is probably the best venue we’ve ever had for any event. Our members love it, we get so much positive feedback from the community about the event and the staff there are so supportive,” McKenzie says. “It’s an amenity and an event that we have no intention of giving up.”

The organization is also hosting an educational and fundraising event at the Big Yellow Hall in Merville Feb. 25, where a wide variety of tables full of goods will be available, garage-sale style, along with having the MARS Ambassador Birds on hand for people to meet and learn about.

Overall, McKenzie says, the organization isn’t too disappointed in having to cancel, because she’s sure the lack of an Eagle Fest for one year won’t dampen the spirit of the community.

“We’ve just got the most incredibly supportive community,” McKenzie says, “not just in their support for MARS, but when you look at what Campbell River and the Comox Valley and the communities beyond and between them support – the art, the music, the social services, the environmental services – I’m staggered by the amount of support here. It’s a wonderful region to be a non-profit in, because you feel very buoyed up and supported by the people here.

“We’re celebrating the past successes and looking forward to having more in the future as we go forward.”

For more information about MARS, visit wingtips.org.