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Our Opinion: Bye-bye birdies

December 09, 2001

For five years the Imperial Valley has been home of the Salton Sea International Bird Festival, an event that has made use of a natural resource in the Valley and built the local tourism industry. It attracted up to 1,000 people each year for a long weekend focused on bird watching.

The event has been canceled for 2002. While we do not blame the organizers for reaching the conclusion they cannot make the event happen in the coming year, it is still a big loss for the Valley.

The Salton Sea International Bird Festival put the Imperial Valley on the map for many; it opened people's eyes to what the Valley has to offer. It was an important component of the Valley's economic development efforts — building the tourism industry has been seen as one means of diversifying the Valley's economy.

Bird festival creator Jim Kuhn, who should be praised for his creativity and hard work over the year, said there just weren't enough volunteers to make the event go in 2002, even though the festival was conceived as an annual event. He said if the event is to succeed, it must have a paid executive director to run it or paid staff from existing local agencies help organize it.

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There are other events put on strictly through volunteer efforts. If there are substantial volunteers, that could be enough. It is sad to think the Valley — a place known for its community efforts — would not be able to produce enough volunteers for such an important event.

We are not saying we disagree with hiring an executive director. If there is the money to make that happen, we support that idea. We also support the idea of local governments and chambers of commerce supplying staff. Still, people need to give of themselves, to this and other good causes, if the Imperial Valley is going to have a positive future.

We hope to see the bird festival return as early as 2003. We urge cities and chambers of commerce to consider what role they can play in making this event a reality.

We urge volunteers to come forward so that the festival can continue after a one-year hiatus as an annual tradition. This is an important event and we should not let it die. We are confident Kuhn and those who have been a part of the festival will not let that happen.

We also want to urge people to think about attending such events. The bird festival is not just for Valley visitors. Organizers always hoped local families would participate in what was meant to be a family event.

Now the bird festival is gone, and that is something to lament. It is not gone for good, though, and that is something to celebrate.

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