Wings Over the Rockies is one of Canada’s largest wildlife festivals, attracting visitors from around the world to celebrate the incredible biodiversity of life in the wetlands of the upper Columbia River valley.
The success of this event is due in no small part to Jami Scheffer. The executive director of the Columbia Valley Arts Council, Jami is also the festival event planner for Wings over the Rockies (WOTR), a hat that fell into her lap 10 years ago when the heritage building that’s home to CV Arts also became the festival’s headquarters.
“It just made sense for me to take up the role,” she said.
Originally from Kimberley, Jami moved to the Coast where she became certified in event planning through Langara College. After living in Whistler and Pemberton, she returned to the Columbia Valley 15 years ago and took over the reins for CV Arts in Invermere. When she took up the role of event planner for WOTR, the festival was floundering with only enough funds to hold it one more year at a loss.
“I came on like a business person. We had to run the festival at least at a break even so we raised all the prices, which were incredibly low,” said Jami. “We also upgraded the website and registration system. We were nervous about raising the prices, but we saw more registrations that year.”
Jami also introduced more events and increased promotion year after year. This year, the festival is in its 22nd year, and offers over 100 events to choose from over 7 days. There is a variety of hikes, paddles, presentations and field trips hosted by a large cross-section of educators, wildlife experts, conservationists, ecologists, historians, biologists and more.
“I believed we could turn the festival around,” she said. “It’s always been our mandate to celebrate what we have here and the protection of our area.”
Each year, Jami works with the festival’s Board to decide on a keynote speaker. Then, based on the keynote, she runs with the theme to craft the festival, pulling together the necessary experts.
“I’m like a detective,” she laughs. “I ask around, I go online and research, and then I’m always watching throughout the year, films, reading books. I pocket all that and pull it out when it’s time to start reaching out to find these people to come to our valley.”
The 2018 theme, Webs & Roots: Talk About Networking!, is in recognition of keynote speaker Ecologist Dr. Suzanne Simard who, while researching her doctoral thesis, discovered that trees use a network of soil fungi to communicate their needs and send each other nutrients through a network of roots and web-type fungi buried in the soil.
“Our valley is a gem and I feel very passionate about keeping it safe and protected,” said Jami. “I have the opportunity in planning the festival to bring the right people in to share these ideas and concepts and to educate people.”
Registration for the 2018 Wings Over the Rockies festival starts April 9 at 9 a.m. Many events sell out quickly, so to avoid disappointment, register early at www.wingsovertherockies.org.