MARTINEZ, Calif. – After 10 years of annual appearances at a downtown area that became known as Beaver Park, the Martinez Beaver Festival is moving to Susana Park, organizer Heidi Perryman said.
It’s date has been shifted to the end of June, as well.
And in a fortuitous coincidence, a family of beavers have moved into the creek that runs near the park, she said.
“The 11th Beaver Festival will be full of surprises,” Perryman said.
“The improved venue has boosted interested in the festival, too,” Perryman said. This year’s edition will have more than 50 nature exhibits, making it the largest event since it was begun as a way to celebrate, rather than condemn, the beavers that had been building a dam in Alhambra Creek in the city’s downtown shopping district.
At that time, many wanted the beavers and their dam destroyed, because several downtown places are susceptible to flooding in winter. Property and shop owners feared the dam would exacerbate those conditions.
But others were horrified that the animals might be killed instead of moved, and they mounted their own campaign to find a way that the beavers and shop owners could coexist.
Perryman’s grassroots group, Worth a Dam, launched the Beaver Festival to show civic and business leaders that residents wanted the beavers to be kept alive and should be welcomed and celebrated for their importance to the California ecosystem.
Eventually, the city hired Skip Lisle of Vermont to install his “beaver deceiver,” a water flow device that managed both the dam height and water levels, and talk of killing or moving the beavers subsided. Beavers became one of the city’s unofficial mascots, and Martinez began getting recognition for employing the water flow device.
However, by 2015, the beaver family was losing its kit litters and decided to abandon its dam and downtown home. When city crews cleaned Alhambra Creek, no evidence of beavers could be found.
By then, Martinez had a reputation for being a municipality where beavers and people could coexist, and people traveled long distances to attend the annual Beaver Festival. Perryman noted at the time the city still had beavers – just not downtown.
Right before the 2016 festival, some beavers were seen mating near the original Beaver Festival site, but the 2017 festival went on without the usual stroll to see the beavers – once more, they had gone from the original downtown site.
However, two dams have been seen in the creek, and one is visible from the Susana Street bridge, Perryman said. That means this year’s festival once again will offer trips to see a beaver dam and, possibly, beavers swimming in the creek. Another benefit of the park is shade from its tall trees, she said.
But the beaver dam and the nature exhibits aren’t the only things eventgoers will see.
Amy G. Hall, a noted chalk artist, will be creating a beaver-themed illustration on the concrete in the park.
Hall is a lifelong fan of beavers, and her home town, Napa, has some, too. Her chalk painting will be of a beaver pond, and it illustrates how beavers benefit other wildlife.
Children attending the festival will be invited to pick up some colored chalk and create their own artwork in spaces near where Hall is working.
Ben Goldfarb, an award-winning environmental writer who covers wildlife conservation, marine science and public lands management, will be launching his book, “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Lives of Beavers and Why They Matter.”
He will read excerpts on the festival stage, and Chapter 6 focuses on California, beginning and ending with the story of the Martinez beavers.
The book is published by Chelsea Green, and will be released at the end of the month.
The festival also has inspired the west coast premiere of Sara Koenigsberg’s documentary, “Beaver Believers,” which looks at the animals in light of climate change.
The premiere will take place before the festival, Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Empress Theatre in Vallejo.
Koenigsberg and her students from Whitman College came to Martinez in 2013 to interview Perryman before filming the festival that year. The documentary also looks at how beaver damming could help prevent water loss in the west in addition to telling Martinez’s beaver story.
While many new things are happening this year, those who have visited the festival in the past will see many familiar and popular things, from a day-long musical lineup that includes bluegrass and Dixieland bands, a nature-themed silent auction, the return of beaver tours and special activities for children.
This year, the first 100 youngsters to arrive at the festival will get to build a “beaver pond” of their own, by collecting wildlife stickers from exhibitors and learning how beavers help other animals, Perryman said.
This sticker adventure will mirror Hall’s beaver pond mural design, she said.
While Perryman praised the previous venue as a park that “served us well for a decade alongside our original beaver habitat, she said, “This new home is ideal for the everything we’ve become./” And since the new venue comes with its own dam a short walk away, she added, “it’s like the beavers showed us the way!
The Martinez Beaver Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 30 at Susana Park, at the intersection of Estudillo and Susana streets. Admission is free. Those interested may visit the website www.martinezbeavers.org.
“The Beaver Believers” will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 28, at the Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo. Admission is $10, and free to the theater’s film club members. Tickets are available online at empresstheatre.org, by calling 707-552-2400 or by visiting the box office, open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and an hour before showtime.