KETCHIKAN, Alaska — Preparations are in full swing for Ketchikan's annual Blueberry Arts Festival, an event that has grown over the past three decades into three days of activities, including a parade, an art exhibit, a fun run, a fair — offering local art, food, games and contests — a beer tasting, a poetry slam, a dance festival and, this year, a totem raising.
It all kicks off Friday afternoon with the Pet and Doll Parade, a short, sweet jaunt from the top of Main Street down to Mission, across to Bawden and up to the Ketchikan Public Library. Anita Maxwell of the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council said this parade gives children and their well-behaved furry and/or stuffed friends the chance to be in a parade, rather than merely watch from the sidelines.
The paraders get a police escort, she said, and treats are served at the end. In addition, Maxwell said, Community Connections Early Learning Program will hand out "passports" that offer suggestions for local places kids can go to have fun, such as art events, the library and the recreation center. Kids get stamps on their passports when they visit places on the list, and children under 5 can qualify for a prize, Maxwell said.
Next up is the Blueberry Dish Contest at the arts council's Main Street Gallery. Everyone can enter their favorite blueberry-based treat for the contest, which Maxwell said will be judged by local restaurateurs.
Maxwell said there are "several serious contestants who have been practicing and perfecting their dishes for the past month," and they keep coming in to the arts council to report on their progress.
"They don't bring samples," she said. "They just come in and tell us about them."
Maxwell said the open-call Blueberry exhibit is one of her favorites.
"It is such an eclectic mix," she said, adding that many artists who often don't show their work otherwise will submit pieces for the Blueberry show. "It's always fun to see the fabulous talents of the ... quiet artists of Ketchikan."
Closing out Friday's activities is opening night of the annual Gigglefeet Dance Festival, an event that showcases a variety of dances and dancers.
KTB Artistic Director Elizabeth Long gave a rundown of the dances, which will include a large group dancing in the energetic Indian-inspired bhangra style, Scottish highland dancing, the Ketchikan High? School Drill Team, several groups of KTB dancers, some of whom designed their own choreography, and at least two KTB instructors — Long and Elizabeth Schafer — who will join their students on stage.
In what's becoming an annual tradition, Miguel Torres and his children will return to the Gigglefeet stage in two pieces, Long said. One is "magic-inspired" and the other is being kept under wraps until opening night.
Long said different dance groups have been in the KTB studio every night rehearsing.
"It's going to be an exquisite show," she said.
More sluggish fairgoers can sleep in a little longer. The first contest starts at 9:30 a.m. when Boyd Porter of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will weigh contestants for the Big Slug Contest. Trainers can take their oversized arthropods to the Methodist Church parking lot to line up at the scales.
Porter also will run the ever-popular Slug Race starting at 10:30 a.m. at the church parking lot. The race typically lasts between 15 minutes and an hour, depending on how zippy the slugs feel that day. In addition to the usual prize of a Blueberry Arts Festival T-shirt, local artist Rayana White has donated stuffed plush slugs for the winning slug trainers to take home, Maxwell said.
Booths will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 6, and Maxwell said there has been an overwhelming response this year from local artists and crafters. Annual favorites will be there, she said, along with some new artists. Art booths will offer watercolors, prints, clothing, accessories, photographs, mosaics, spices, cards, soaps and more. Food booths also will be open, featuring crepes, reindeer sausage, lumpia, Indian tacos and more.
For musicians and music lovers, the Battle of the Bands starts at noon in the church parking lot, and lasts through 5 p.m., with a variety of bands scheduled to compete for, among other prizes, the Best Blueberry Song.
An extra event added to this year's Blueberry weekend is a totem-raising at 1 p.m. in the City of Saxman. The city will raise two 13-foot bear totem poles in Saxman's Totem Row Park.
According to the city, the poles will replace two older Bear Entrance Poles on Totem Row Park's Frog Wall. The new poles, carved by Donnie Varnell, will be hand-raised in the traditional fashion, and the event will feature songs, dances, speakers and refreshments.
Back at Main Street, after loading up on sugar and reaching their shopping limit, fairgoers can take a break physically and challenge their mental faculties instead with the Spelling Bee and Trivia Contest, set for 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., respectively, both at the Methodist Church sanctuary.
Ketchikan's bearded population will be able to compete again in the second annual Blueberry Beard Contest, set to start at 4 p.m. at Mike's Elbow Room on Main Street.
To round out the second day of events, all ages can participate in a free Dancing on the Dock dance party, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the covered area of Berth III downtown. Those 21 or older can attend the annual CHARR Beer Festival, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show grounds.
Events for the final day of the festival, Aug. 7 this year, begin later in the day with the 21st Annual Richard Brautigan and Dick Whittaker Memorial Trout Fishing in America Poetry Slam and Creek Street Love Limerick Contest, starting at 3 p.m. Aug. 7 at the New York Cafe.
Maxwell said former Ketchikan resident Phoebe Newman, well known for her poetry, will be in town to host the annual poetry slam.
Information from: Ketchikan Daily News, http://www.ketchikandailynews.com