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The annual Lake Billy Chinook festival undergoing changes, will debut in 2022

PHOTOS COURTESY OF OREGON PARKS AND RECREATION DEPARTMENT - The Eagle Watch event was held each winter at The Cove Palisades State Park for nearly 25 years. The festival was a way for families to observe and celebrate Central Oregon's birds of prey. Organizers are reinventing the event, which will begin in 2022.Keep an eye out for more information on a revamped and reinvented version of Eagle Watch.

The 25-year Culver tradition was usually held the last weekend in February at The Cove Palisades State Park. It was a festival of high desert wildlife and an opportunity to observe and celebrate Central Oregon's birds of prey.

Started by Ranger Paul Patton, in cooperation with the Oregon Eagle Foundation, Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in 1995, Eagle Watch focused on eagles and later raptors, specifically in the Lake Billy Chinook area at Round Butte Overlook Park.

"We added an art contest for Central Oregon students in 2015 that generated some truly inspiring images and hopefully lifelong stewardship," said The Cove Palisades State Park Ranger Erin Bennett.

It was designed to be family friendly with something for all ages.

"I want Central Oregon residents and visitors to know that we haven't abandoned the event and fully intend to pursue a new and more interesting version as soon as safely and logistically possible," Bennett said.

Eagle Watch had been planned for the end of March in 2020 but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was to be the final event before it got a remake.

"The program evolved quite a lot over the years but had reached a point where organizers felt changes were necessary for the sustainability of the event," Bennett said.

Major partners included the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, PGE, United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Sunriver Nature Center. Other local sponsors included Jefferson County Chamber, Madras Garden Center, East Cascade Audubon Society, Museum at Warm Springs, Quartz Creek Drummers and Dancers, The Begay Family, and local photographers and artists.

"Our new vision is to take what worked and expand topics to a wider audience," Bennett said.

The name of the new event has not been decided, but she said it would be something like Lake Billy Chinook Days with a focus on the entire Lake Billy Chinook region.

This might include geology, local cultural and natural history, wildfire and its role, other wildlife that have compelling roles in the ecosystem, and possibly even recreational opportunities that have a low impact on the region.

"It's still to be decided how the tribes will be included, but they are an important and popular part of the event," Bennett said. "I'm sure that everyone will be excited to see what they decide to share with us."

The new event was supposed to debut in late winter 2021, however, with COVID and all the restrictions and challenges that go along with that, Bennett said it can't happen next year.

"I guess we all have to wait and see what post-COVID events will look like going forward," Bennett said. "So, looking to 2022, my goal at this point is still to launch it bigger and better than ever."

She's grateful for the host of volunteers, many of whom came back year after year to make Eagle Watch possible.

"I want to thank everyone that made the event possible over the years and to the awesome visitors that made it so worthwhile to do," Bennett said.


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