By Andrea Brown Ross | Photography courtesy of Great Delta Bear Affair
The Great Delta Bear Affair festival, scheduled for Oct. 26, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, has a “beary” unique claim to fame.
Each October in this Mississippi Delta town, the population of approximately 2,000 swells to more than 6,000. Festival goers make the journey to rural Sharkey County to commemorate what didn’t happen there in 1902: President Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary refusal to kill a black bear.
Inspired by Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation, the festival was initially created in 2002 to bring awareness to the plight of black bears, which were disappearing. It was estimated that fewer than 20 bears were in the state at that time, and the Louisiana black bears were found only in the lower two-thirds of the state. That was also the same year teddy bears became the official state toy for Mississippi.
Although removed recently from the Federally Threatened Species list, they are still classified as Endangered under Mississippi law. Today, the festival continues to celebrate conservation and camaraderie.
“The festival is a one-day, multi-faceted, family-friendly event held on the fourth Saturday in October,” shares Meg Cooper, festival coordinator. The 2019 festival will be Oct. 26.
With a “wildlife slant,” the GDBA hosts vendors of all sorts from wildlife education to arts and crafts, food vendors and, of course, teddy bears. Special guest presentations will include retired archeologist Sam Brooks, who will give tours of the local Indian mounds, and herpetologist Terry Vandeventer, who is known as the Mississippi Snake Man. Dayton Scoggins, a Mississippi native and chainsaw wood carver, will spend the day creating a 12-foot statue carved from a cypress stump.
“Festival goers love to sit and watch him as he carves,” shares Cooper. “We even have a tour planned of his other 18 statues, all of which are within walking distance of the square and festivities.”
The most sought-after photo opportunities are with living historians Case Hicks as Teddy Roosevelt and Ollie Morganfield as Roosevelt’s hunting guide, Holt Collier. These festival “celebrities” mingle with the crowd and answer questions about the historical event.
“Our Teddy Roosevelt is busy the week preceding the festival,” explains Cooper. As a part of the philanthropic arm of the festival, Roosevelt (Hicks) visits the local nursing home and Blair E. Batson Hospital for Children in Jackson giving away teddy bears and visiting with patients and residents.
The Friday before the festival has become a popular field trip for area fourth graders. Youth Festival Day promotes conservation awareness with interactive booths and presentations from living historians and wildlife professionals. While Cooper acknowledges that the festival’s mission is not about making large sums of money, proceeds in the past have benefitted area youth organizations as well as the local library, hospital, and police department.
“This year, all admission money will be donated to the South Delta Disaster Recovery Fund for victims of the Backwater Flood. I am thrilled that the festival will be making a contribution to help flood victims repair and rebuild homes that have been damaged or lost because of the water,” says Cooper.
GDBA does not charge parking fees, but they do request a $3 donation per person. Held rain or shine, the festival’s schedule of events is online.
“I’m so excited about this year’s music line–up,” shares Cooper. While guests are sure to love a variety of musical artists, they may also enjoy seeing the Chuckburger Eating Contest.
“Chuck’s Dairy Bar is famous in Rolling Fork. They’ve been around 50 years,” Cooper says. “Contestants compete eating Chuck’s famous chili and slaw burger.”
The festival ends with a fireworks display from a professional fireworks company.
“Some of our locals don’t have an opportunity to travel and see elaborate fireworks,” she explains. “We hope everyone will stick around this year and help us end the festival with a bang!”
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