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28th Annual Endangered Species Faire Wrap Up - May 2007

The 28th ESF logo.

The annual occurrence of the Endangered Species Faire is proof that our community is dedicated to its young people. It’s an amazing event that takes on a life of its own, and while I was honored to coordinate it this year, the Faire is truly the result of the labor of many dedicated people, and no one person can ever take credit for it. As a matter of fact, I had to “share a brain,” with our Administrative Assistant, Maggi Barry for about a month, in order to pull it off. In reality she was the Co-Coordinator of the Faire, and did many thankless tasks with the pure anticipatory joy of watching so many people enjoy themselves on May 5th. The institutional memory of past veteran Faire Coordinator, Tom Okerlund, was enormous…what seemed like little things turned out to be quite important. Tom was always kind and informative… and he was there every step of the way. Last year’s Faire Coordinator, Cindy McCartney, answered about 1,000 questions patiently for months before, and gave her time once again the day of the faire. She even inspired her son to coordinate some Boyscouts to help at the Birdseed Feeder booth. Mary Muchowski, former BEC employee, spent her day running the food booth and supervising enthusiastic Chico State volunteers.

As the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Butte Environmental Council, I have been to many public events, festivals, workshops, etc., and I honestly don’t think I’m biased in saying this, but the Endangered Species Faire has the most festive and celebratory, yet still educational atmosphere. Playfulness mixed with important lessons of life and nature is inspiring.

Many, many non-profit, government and school groups attend the faire, and they “go all out.” By this I mean that they don’t just set up a stack of brochures on their table and talk to a few people; they have beanbag toss games, face-painting, puppet skits, giant lifesized tic-tac-toe games, live lady bugs to take home for your garden, live reptiles to observe and touch, and a create-your-own birdseed feeder station. It’s not your average educational faire.

The air of generosity, of energy and talent, is pervasive. Local, well known musicians play gratis …people like renowned Banjologist, Gordy Ohliger, and Mark McKinnon’s Ha’Penny Bridge Celtic band, and Mark Gailey’s Molly’s Favorite, and Local World. Our own local theater troupe, wowed the kids and adults with their incredibly riveting and meaningful performance of Dr. Seus’ story of the Lorax. It was pure fun to watch the sea of little and big faces glued to the stage as local performers, Tyana Maddock, Christine Fulton and many others in the troupe, drew them in to heartache, joy and silly laughter. Only stories with that kind of duality can become a part of a person’s consciousness. And nothing sticks with kids more than stories that they can be a part of, like Kathy Faith’s students’ original story of “How the Snake Learned to Wiggle.” At the end of the story, the audience was captivated by the scene of a giant garter snake wiggling all around the grove, with 20 pairs of little wobbling feet and legs sticking out beneath the snake’s belly.

Having been involved in the faire for the two years previous to my co-coordination of it this year, I’m still astounded by the generosity of its sponsors. Some people may get used to seeing Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. fund all of the cool progressive community efforts, but I can’t. I’m always so amazed and grateful. And it doesn’t matter if they have the funds to donate. It wasn’t always that way. They’ve been the major sponsor for the faire for well over 10 years. That’s dedication to community. And every year that our local philanthropist of F.R.E.E. writes BEC a very generous check, I’m floored. He doesn’t have to do that. He also comes and sits in the sun and gives plants away at the faire EVERY YEAR. He doesn’t ask for anything. He just watches with satisfaction and relief that the effort continues year after year.

Even the government values the faire. This year U.S. Fish and Wildlife gave a generous donation. It’s obvious that they value environmental education. It only makes sense. And local companies, like SunGard Bi-Tech want to make sure that the faire happens. They have been sponsoring the faire for quite a few years now. The newspapers are supportive too. The Chico News & Review has consistently donated large quality ads for the faire, helping to get the word out.

Unlike the faire sponsors, many of the people who attended don’t know about Dave Cowen, from Sounds by Dave, who provided sound for us all day, for free; or Peter Hollingsworth and Karen Goodwin, who served up plate after plate of tostadas and gave all of their profit to help fund the faire; or Laurel Blankenship and Jim Brobeck who were once again the faire’s MCs for no Gary Bergeron of In-Tents who paid his own crew to set up the stage canopy free of charge for the ESF, or Bobby Seals and Dan Bogan, who helped to provide the stage; or Mark Gailey, who has been helping to plan the faire for years and recruits quality musicians (a group of which he himself also belongs to); or Pullins Cyclery, which year-after-year gives a beautiful bike up for the faire’s raffle; or hoards of volunteers who ask to be able to help; or crews of California Conservation Corps members, who politely help out with the back-breaking work and tell me that they are thankful to have been a part of the faire; or Ed Caldwell, who every single year, after staying up until midnight the night before printing the faire’s programs, helps to take down the cumbersome back drops and heap them into piles.

The people who attend the faire don’t need to know the behind-the- scenes volunteers. Those volunteers do it because they love the Endangered Species Faire, and they just want to be a part of it. Maggi Barry said to me after the faire ended that she felt like the community “gave birth to the faire” again this year.

Someone said to me a couple of days ago that they thought it was amazing how the backdrops for the booths at the Endangered Species Faire, which create the feeling of a little city, pop up magically in Cedar Grove every year. I laughed because it’s hard labor, and takes painstaking care, to get those all set-up. People like Charlie Guilbault show-up with a flat bed trailerunexpectedly and become the faire setup hero, and Tom Okerlund directs the CCC crew patiently, with sweat dripping down his brow. Barbara Vlamis drives the huge Pentzke truck, helping load and unload carefully packed panels for 15 years, with just the right tool for repairs in hand, always. The crew works tirelessly and thanks us 20 times for the simple thank you of a pizza lunch. No, the backdrop panels and stage and garbage cans and porta-potties do not pop-up magically, but I’m glad that it appears that way to passersby. That’s the way that it should be.

Most of the kids will never forget the day that they danced around in Cedar Grove, with their faces painted by the Eco Freakos, and got caught up in the story of the Lorax. They will always remember seeing an alligator, a lemur, a kissing Joey, and many exciting snakes. They will attach meaning to how important it is to protect our wetlands…so, that more kids can continue to see exciting snakes, possibly even the Giant, Gliding, Garter Snake.

Thank you Chico for a great faire this year!

Article by Jennifer Oman from the Summer 2007 Environmental News.