Raptor Festival - event of the year

Central Manitoba Tourism Board Chair Vern May presents the Event of the Year award to Evelyn Janzen of the La Riviere Raptor Festival. (GREG VANDERMEULEN/Morden Times)

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When the very first La Riviere Raptor Festival took place eight years ago, they had four sponsors and eight displays. “We were aiming for 50 to 100 in attendance,” coordinator Evelyn Janzen recalls. “We had 98, so we thought we had really met our goal.”
Since then the festival has outgrown the community hall and almost outgrown the hall and arena combined. The festival in a community of 250, brought in 650 attendees in 2019.
The festival also got the attention of Central Manitoba Tourism, and at the April 25 awards gala Raptor Festival won the Event of the Year award (under $5,000 budget).
Janzen said the award is both recognition of volunteers and a sign that she and fellow coordinator Paul Goossen are doing something right.
“We’re definitely on the right track,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is educate kids and (other) people about our biodiversity and how we need to protect our environment in order to be good stewards of the land.”
Raptor Fest gives people an up close look at wild raptors, and the Pembina Valley is a corridor for those birds every spring.
In fact according to 2013 statistics, every year, 12,500 Red-tailed Hawks, 1,868 Bald Eagles and 1,590 Sharp-shinned Hawks make the migration. A total of 15 species make the trip including Turkey Vultures, and Golden Eagles.
Janzen said it’s important to pay attention to birds. “Our birds are probably one of our first indicators of something wrong in our system,” she said. “It’s important to watch our birds and be aware of our environment.”
This type of award is a boost for everyone involved.
“I think that it’s recognition to our volunteers that what they’re doing is beneficial to everybody,” she said. “It’s showing the volunteers what they have done has served a great purpose.”
For Janzen, the reason for their success is simple.
“I think we’re providing a service that people want, we’re providing information that people are looking for,” she said.
Janzen said people are aware of global challenges and are looking for answers. It’s also tough to beat the chance to see raptors up close.
“For some people, once they’ve seen it, they want to see it every year,” she said, adding there’s a family from Hodgson, (3.5 to 4 hours away), that comes annually. “They wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
While the main attraction is always the raptors, and the release of one back into the wild, Janzen said they still try to change things up.
“We always try to add something new or something different so that the people that come on a regular basis are never bored,” she said.
Janzen said the others at the awards ceremony were also very deserving of recognition.
“I’d like to congratulate all the nominees,” she said. “I think each and every one of them is a winner in their own right.”

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