Kirsten Swann

The 32nd annual Bear Paw Festival is right around the corner, and locals are gearing up for a long weekend full of family friendly festivities and treasured community traditions.

“It’s just super cute and safe,” said Eagle River resident Maggie Stadman, whose young daughter Talyn looked forward to the face painting and carnival rides. “We go probably almost every night.”

“And I love the balloons!” Talyn said.

The brain aneurism struck Denise Creager-Smith when she was still in high school, she said.

At first, she recalled, she wasn’t expected to live. She did. She relearned how to walk and talk, completed her junior year of high school that summer, graduated on time with her class and went on to earn her master’s degree, she said.

Alaska’s latest long-distance endurance race kicked off July 7 in Chugiak, with teams heading south along a 175-mile course to Seward.

The inaugural Alaska Relay race began in waves at Mirror Lake Park, where Friday morning rainclouds had given way to sunny skies. Runners gathered near the water’s edge, chatting and stretching and adjusting bibs and watches and ipod armbands.

“It’s a little intimidating, but I think it’s going to be fun,” said June Gardner, captain of the team Alaska Run Wild.

Inside Hilda’s Barber Shop, a Downtown Eagle River landmark, longtime local customers chat about everything from family, marriage and divorce to summer vacations and times gone by.

On a rainy Saturday afternoon in early July, the conversation turned to business.

After 28 years at the Eagle River barbershop, Linda McLendon has seen plenty of local storefronts come and go. This time, a customer told her, it was the Eagle River Blockbuster. A nearby Trendsetters salon had recently closed, too.

To William Hunter Barndt, a senior at Eagle River Christian School, school is more like a second home, making the rest of the senior class more like family than classmates.

“It’s really cool, because us four – we’re actually extremely best friends,” he said. “It’s our squad.”

The squad includes Barndt, Alec Von Heavener, Raymond Joseph Jones and Lucas Allen Just – the ERCS Class of 2017. Barndt met them all in elementary and middle school, he said. Now, he’s preparing to graduate with them.

The last Friday in June marked the end of a long, beloved chapter for the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.

After more than 28 years on the job, librarian Deborah Trego cleaned out her desk and prepared to clock out for the last time, saying goodbye to patrons, coworkers and the library she loved. It was time, she said.

“When you get my age, you learn that things happen,” Trego said. “You have to adapt the best way you can.”

There is such a thing as too many books – even at a public library.

The Chugiak-Eagle River Public Library is asking patrons to stop donating library materials through the end of August, according to library staff. A sign hanging on the library door announces the moratorium: “Thanks to our generous community, we have more material than we have space or power to process.”

“We have to do this periodically,” said Nancy Clark, the Chugiak-Eagle River branch manager.

After two fatal maulings and several close encounters made headlines around the state recently, a presentation on safety in bear country drew several dozen locals to the Chugiak-Eagle River Nature Center Sunday afternoon.

When the first firefighters and paramedics pulled up to the United Methodist Church of Chugiak Sunday afternoon, the only fire was under the grill set up outside.

Smiling congregation members, the smell of fresh barbecue and a sweeping view of Mount Susitna greeted the engine and ambulance as they rolled into the church parking lot. Red-checkered tablecloths covered the tables arranged at the sunny north end of the lot; inside the church, congregation members had prepared a potluck picnic buffet.

Friday nights mean a full kitchen at The Homestead.

Stephanie Caudle starts preparing early. House cleaning starts around noon, she said, dinner preparation begins around 4 p.m. and guests start arriving an hour or so later. Dinner’s served at 6 p.m., Caudle said, followed by games, Bible study and dessert. Sometimes, she said, guests stick around until 1 or 2 a.m.