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Story Last modified at 3:13 p.m. on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Everyone wins at Bear Paw

By MATT TUNSETH

Congratulations are in order – for the award winners at this year's Bear Paw Festival and also those who made those awards possible.

First, the winners.

It's always fun to meet kids like Johna Rutz and Kody Trombley. This year's Bear Paw King and Queen (AKA Mr. and Miss Bear Paw) truly represent the best this area has to offer. As winners in this year's pageant, the duo proved themselves to be class acts highly deserving of their titles. Both are excellent students who manage to juggle busy extracurricular lives and community service schedules.

In addition to showing poise and maturity beyond their years, the soon-to-be high school seniors proved themselves to be good sports over the weekend. Along with their fellow pageant participants, Mr. and Miss Bear paw were seemingly everywhere over the weekend, from handing out hot dogs at the Teddy Bear Picnic to dishing out – then eating – piles of vanilla ice cream during the ice cream eating contest.

If the likes of Rutz, Trombley and the rest of the Bear Paw Pageant contestants are the future of Chugiak-Eagle River, we're in good shape.

Other winners over the weekend included hot rod car owners, motorcycle builders, smelly sneaker owners and some of the best salmon cooks in Alaska. As Bear Paw champs, they get bragging rights for another year – and hopefully, all will return next year to defend their titles...

As for those handing out the awards, we would be remiss if we didn't recognize the work done by all the volunteers and organizers of this year's festival. The list is far too long to begin here, but if it weren't for them, Bear Paw wouldn't exist — and we'd be less of a community for it. From civic organizations working the entire festival to individuals wanting to pitch in for an afternoon, those who donate their time are what keep this thing going year after year.

The best way to thank these people is to get involved. When next year's Bear Paw rolls around (and it's coming fast), why not try lending a hand? More volunteers are always needed and appreciated by those who do the "heavy lifting," and while the pay stinks, you can't beat the camaraderie. While working long hours, this year's Bear Paw volunteers and organizers seemed to be always smiling as they went about their jobs.

Maybe that means there's a pay-off after all.

Finally, some recognition should go to the Eagle River business community, which both help put the festival together and tolerated four days of traffic closures and overflowing parking lots. Each year, the businesses of Business Boulevard allow the festival to take over several blocks of their space. By allowing the festival to happen, these business owners have said they value community involvement more than their own convenience.

When individuals, businesses and community organizations come together for the good of our community, everybody wins.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, July 13, 2011.