Bear Festival Stew
Community bear stew vegetable preparation is Friday, July 7, 2023 at 7:00am at the park kitchen area. All are welcome to join, just bring a cutting board and peeler!
The McCleary Bear Festival was dreamed up in 1959 by Norman Porter, then editor of the hometown newspaper. It wasn’t that he disliked bears, but he and other residents of this area knew that bears, prior to hibernation when they need extra calories or after hibernation when their preferred food sources are still unavailable, crave the soft layer of sapwood that’s underneath the bark. In order to satisfy their craving, they would often strip a tree of all its bark. They may also damage trees when rubbing vigorously against them to leave their scent. Some bears can cause extensive damage to trees which will result in the tree getting ill and eventually dying.
It started with a remark by a friend of Porter’s, who claimed that Skamania bears, if properly cooked, were the world’s most delicious. The two agreed to meet head-on in a bear-tasting contest in McCleary. Now the civic-minded McClearians became interested, began forming committees and decided to stage something more than just a bear-eating contest. Working with Porter, they created the Second Growth and Bear Festival.
McCleary is a slumbering little lumber town 30 minutes west of the Capitol City, Olympia, and depends greatly upon the forests surrounding it in Grays Harbor County for survival. The Simpson Timber Company always replants harvested land for future use of the timber industry, as do all other timber companies in the Northwest. It is these young trees that bears find so tasty and damage readily each spring. By the ninth annual Bear Festival, 4,000 visitors were gathered in McCleary. The cooking crew by then had grown to several local sportsmen who started two days ahead of time to make sure the bear stew was ready on time. Now we host upwards of 10,000 people from all over the United States and Canada who have heard one way or another about the big three-day celebration on the second full weekend of July each year.
Bear meat is obtained through the Fish and Wildlife Department, where hunters apply and receive permits for the nuisance wildlife program that require specific State mandated regulations to be followed.
100+ pounds of meat go into the stew with a small portion of that being beef if there is a lack of bear meat that season. There are also hundreds of pounds of potatoes, carrots, onions and a large kettle of “special” spicy sauce cooked just right with seasonings that are added just before serving that is prepared by community volunteers. The stew is cooked in enormous iron kettles on stoves in the City Park kitchen by our volunteer fire fighters. This is one case where too many chefs don’t spoil the stew, for it takes about 40 people to handle the cooking chores; McCleary Fire Department taking ’round the clock shifts watching and stirring and adding the right ingredients at the right time to make the stew just right. The menu also calls for a ton of watermelon, 3,000 rolls, and baked beans by the kettles full. It is served immediately following the Grand Parade, which always starts at 12:00 noon on Saturday.