Festivals bringing visitors to town

It was a busy Friday afternoon at Kaeser’s when a woman from
Hay River popped in to pick up some groceries. She and her family were registered for the Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival and needed some fixings for breakfast and a couple of lunches. This family-friendly annual event in late
August attracts novice stargazers and seasoned astronomy buffs.

From the opening social event on Thursday evening, until the welcome dinner has ended on Friday night, the festival’s activities are offered in town. Then they move to the Pine Lake Dark Sky Observation site in Wood Buffalo National Park for Saturday and Sunday.

From a star party that attracted 20 locals in 2012, the event has grown to 150+ participants from across Canada and the world.

Nearly half of them come from outside the community, some driving from Alberta and British Columbia to take in the three-day event. Last year, two women from Quebec arrived a few days early and stayed at the Queen Elizabeth Territorial Park campground to check out the sights in Fort Smith and Wood Buffalo National Park.

Another group of more than two dozen people drove in from Hay River. “Maybe next year we should get a bus,” one woman joked.

“Festivals tend to draw people to the community,” Dark Sky Festival coordinator Mike Couvrette said. “With that comes the economic benefits of people using our business services and purchasing goods. They’re going to the grocery stores to buy food. They’re stopping at the gas station to fill up their gas tank, stopping at the coffee shop and restaurants, staying at the hotel and campground.”

Some festival-goers take advantage of free time on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning to visit local attractions, including flightseeing tours with Northwestern Air Lease.

This year’s festival takes place August 22-25.

Bob McDonald, host of CBC Radio’s Quirks & Quarks, will be a featured presenter along with science facilitator Wilfred Buck, a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

Festival activities include the Circus of Science for kids, workshop presentations for adults, homemade rockets and campfire conversations with guest speakers.

Advance registration is required. Meet the organizers and find out more about the 2019 Thebacha & Wood Buffalo Dark Sky Festival at Thebacha Trade Show, April 27.

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