By Carol Stiffler

Preparations for the first-ever Loonapalooza event, which will be held at the Erickson Center for the Arts in Curtis on August 11, are in the final stages. The event has three main purposes: To celebrate and teach about loons, raise awareness of the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and to increase membership of the non-profit Friends of Seney National Wildlife Refuge organization.

The Friends, currently about 180 members strong, fundraise for the refuge and volunteer thousands of hours there annually.

“The Friends of Seney wanted to create an event, a community conversation really, about the loons and about the larger story of their status as a threatened species in Michigan and why our stewardship is necessary,” said Polly Sheppard, event planner for Loonapalooza.

Members of the Friends group are invited, and the first hour of the event is exclusive for them. From 6-8 p.m., non-members can join in for an auction, raffle, and presentations by Refuge biologist Jen Wycoff and loon expert Joe Kaplan of Common Coast Research and Conservation.

ABJ and Fe, the world’s oldest known male and female loons, are summer residents at the refuge. They became world famous for their age, fidelity, and success at parenting prior to their shocking breakup last spring.

“Their story is so amazing and worth celebrating: it teaches us about the perils they face and our responsibility to be the best guardians we can be for them and for their habitat,” Sheppard said. “We only know about their story because of the research done over decades, much of it by Common Coast Research and Conservation in partnership with Seney NWR.  Without the banding program, we wouldn’t know how old the loons are or how many chicks they have hatched…and if those chicks return to Seney NWR as adults.”

Guests at the event will have somewhat of an out-of-body experience.

They’ll be “banded” upon arrival, given a distinctive identification band like those placed on young loons at the refuge. The identification bands match real loons that live or have lived at the refuge, and guests will learn their fate as loons.

End of the Road Winery has prepared specially labeled wine for Loonapalooza, and Ore Dock Brewery in Marquette is supplying a keg of beer. Sweets will be supplied by Upper Crust bakery. Jeff Bomber is overseeing the music.

“As far as I’m concerned this is going to be a regular event,” said Bill MacLachlan, president of Friends of Seney National Wildlife Refuge. “We want to get the word out: We’ve got this fantastic refuge right in our backyard. We want to make sure people are aware of it, and can enjoy it.”

Visitors to the refuge are often there to observe wildlife, which can be easily spotted on driving tours, bike paths, and hiking trails. Fishing is allowed from the shoreline of some pools, and canoes and kayaks are welcome on the river that runs through the refuge.

“It is a jewel. It’s just gorgeous,” MacLachlan said. “You can go to a state park, federal park. But most of them have been encroached by humans. This one, we’ve got 25,000 acres that we haven’t even touched.”

Future Loonapalooza events may include some activities that take place at the refuge, but this first event will be entirely off-site while major construction projects are underway at the refuge.