MARTINEZ -- New beaver kits appeared in Alhambra Creek last week, just in time for the Martinez Beaver Festival. It is a time for family fun and an easy way to discover some secrets of urban wildlife.
Wildlife experts, artists, entertainers, teachers and scientists will be at the sixth annual Martinez Beaver Festival in Beaver Park with guided creek tours, games, hands-on projects, 41 display booths, music and information on the beavers, fish, otters, birds and vegetation surrounding beaver construction sites.
"The festival brings together many groups that have the same mindset of education and awareness of our environment -- the flora and fauna and the animals that share it," said photographer Cheryl Reynolds, who is vice president of Worth a Dam.
Groups include the Marine Mammal Center, Project Coyote of Marin, Northern California Bats from Sacramento, Sierra Wildlife Coalition from Tahoe and John Muir Association. Safari West Wildlife Preserve's Junior Keepers are expected to help, and a class of Whitman College students is filming for a beaver documentary.
"This will be our biggest festival ever, more than double last year," said Heidi Perryman, Worth a Dam and www.martinezbeavers.org founder.
Kids can collect a free Keystone Species charm made by Wild Bryde Jewelry at educational booths that they visit, and make a necklace of them at the linking station. Adults may do the same, for $10.
Children might enjoy painting a rock portrait of any creatures that visit the creek. Steelhead trout, otter, mink, a green heron and other birds have appeared since the arrival of the beavers, a "keystone species."
"Be on the lookout for kingfishers, great blue heron and cormorants too," Reynolds advised. When not volunteering for Worth a Dam, she works at International Bird Rescue in Fairfield, an organization that rehabilitates aquatic birds.
Musical performances throughout the day include the San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers, Spirit of '29 band, Mark Comstock performing his original "Beaver Ballad" and more.
The size of the Martinez beaver family has fluctuated over the years. Two adults, three kits and a yearling from last year reside in downtown creek now and their life is as fascinating as ever for those who flock to the area to get a peek at them.
"Adults are always busy, whereas the young kits never do any work. They get spoiled. Any grown up to age 5 will give them a piece of food or a ride on their back," Perryman said.
"The 1-year-old is learning to mud and build dams," she said. "He tries it on his own. Every time he goes to the dam he brings a stick."
Perryman suggests that visitors stay in town for supper and wait for the beavers to come out. The kits are the first to wake up at about 6:30 p.m. under the bridge near the Amtrak Station.
When beavers moved into Alhambra Creek in downtown Martinez in 2006, no one guessed what it would mean for the human residents.
Martinez was first to protect and celebrate its urban beavers, but last year there were three beaver festivals in the United States and two in Canada.
"We hope there will be 10 by next year. They come to us for help, and we share information," Perryman said.
Martinez city officials initially planned to get rid of the first 30-foot wide, by six-foot high dam, as well as the beavers. They feared the destruction of new, expensive flood control measures and flooding downtown.
After intense controversy, the beaver dam was preserved and flood concerns mitigated.
"We can solve problems in new ways and get a huge benefit from it," Perryman said. "We have new species of fish and birds, all because of the beavers. It is really a nice lesson of how a city can do something different and reap a tremendous reward."
Since their arrival, the beavers added to the number of dams until four of them were washed out by heavy rains in 2011.
"They just started building them up again," Reynolds said. "Sometimes they work on the primary dam between Escobar and Marina Vista, and at other times they work on the secondary dam near the footbridge at Amtrak."
Contact Dana Guzzetti at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-202-9292.
What: Beaver Festival VI
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3
Where: Beaver Park, at Marina Vista and Alhambra Avenue, downtown Martinez