With this year's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival quickly approaching, the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center is asking the community's help in ensuring the festival is a financially sustainable event.
"This year everybody who has registered for an event gets a keychain figure they have to show when they come into events," said Monte Davis, the chamber's executive director. "Anyone who doesn't have that is given the opportunity to pay the $15 registration."
While it won't be required this year, Davis said the chamber wants to "make it clear that if (the public) wants the festival to continue, it needs local support, and I don't mean showing up. I mean financial."
In 2012, the chamber's festival expenses totaled $85,981. After all the bills were paid, the chamber's net income from the festival was $1,833.
"For something like that to be sustainable, that's cutting it way too close," said Davis.
The only other chamber-sponsored event that requires as much effort is the Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby, which runs from mid-May to mid-September.
"That brings us about $30,000 every year," said Davis. "I don't expect Shorebird to do that, but it would be nice to make sure it more than pays for itself, that we actually got paid for all the time we put into it."
Festival events for which registration has not been required lack an avenue for accurately monitoring how many attend. Some of those events also offer refreshments, which become another expense for which there is no financial return.
"If people really want this festival to continue, then we need to ask the locals to step up to the plate and pay for it," said Davis.
Those wanting to attend the festival, but unable to pay the registration fee can sign up as volunteers.
"We may be looking for more volunteers than we've had for awhile because one thing we're doing this year is trying to get a count of how many people actually take part in those 'included with your registration' events,'" said Davis. "We want to question whether or not, when we have a speaker at 10 a.m. and only eight people show up, do we want to continue that? We want to get a count and see if we're offering too many things. It's possible there are so many things that we're actually hurting the attendance."
What makes the festival unique from other chamber events is the strong support of numerous local nonprofits and agencies, such as a grant from the World Wildlife Fund and the involvement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In spite of cuts to Fish and Wildlife's budget, Marianne Aplin believes supporting Shorebird Festival is part of Fish and Wildlife's role. Aplin, who has been manager of the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center for nine years, recalled shortly after arriving in Homer, she overheard conversations at the post office about businesses opening for the festival.
"I was so pleased. People were talking about the return of migratory shorebirds being important to their businesses," she said. "What we want to contribute to the community is helping push back the shoulder season, bringing people to town to spend their money and enjoy looking at the wildlife spectacle of migratory birds. We see that as part of our mission."
As a festival partner, Fish and Wildlife coordinates speakers, event leaders and volunteers for some of the events. It also provides space for festival activities and provides some equipment and hours of staff time.
"This year, Michelle Michaud with Kachemak Bay Birders has stepped in and taken over some of the land-based tours and volunteer coordination," said Aplin. "And we have wonderful partners like Eagle Optics that bring extra optics for us to use."
Other assistance includes tickets contributed by airline companies; funding from Alaska Audubon, Bay Excursions and Taiga Communications; accommodations provided by local bed and breakfasts and motels; volunteers and programs offered by the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve.
"It's been a great partnership. … You'll see everyone from our refuge manager to our maintenance staff pitching in and helping make it successful," said Aplin.
She is aware of Davis' concerns, however.
"The festival was virtually free when I got here," she said. "I'm not sure how things have changed so much, why our costs are different. … I can see him wanting to maintain more fiscal responsibility."
Having all participants register will help solve a challenge faced by the chamber's shorebird festival coordinator, Debbie Dauphinais.
"When going out trying to solicit funds, every person I spoke to asked how many people attend, but we don't have good numbers because so many people show up for the free events," said Dauphinais. "When you tell a potential sponsor it's some place between 1,000 and, oh, I don't know, 5,000, they look at you like you're an idiot. I've seen higher numbers than that quoted, but I can't put my fingers on registered participants."
Another challenge faced by Dauphinais is the discovery that some support she was told existed, such as free housing for festival guests, is no longer available.
"(The festival) was originally started to bring awareness to the environment and the cultural aspect of it, but also to help the economy in Homer," said Dauphinais, noting an economic impact survey done after the 2012 shorebird festival indicated it added $220,000 to the local economy. "That's what the chamber's part in this really is, to help give a little shot in the arm to the economy."
To do that it needs the investment of local by registering for the festival, volunteering or by joining the Crane Club and making a donation to the festival.
"There's a love for this festival that is unbelievable. People brag about it," said Davis. "But it needs to be run as a business. … We have everything in place to do it correctly, but we need the support of locals. Monetary support. Not just, 'oh yeah, I love shorebird.'"
For more information about Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival or to volunteer, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.