Visitors view mushroom-themed artwork at the Copper River Gallery, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

A rainy summer set the stage for a plentiful Fungus Fest this year in Cordova. The annual festival took place last weekend.  

Festival headquarters were located at the new Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC) building on Orca Road. The large atrium and classroom space in the building offered a convenient venue for guest resources and several educational presentations throughout the weekend. Guests were able to pick up welcome bags from the Chamber of Commerce upon check-in and pursue a display table full of common fungus species in the area along with identification cards. The identification display also detailed whether use of the fungus is toxic, edible, or otherwise unknown. This year the table hosted a wide variety of species in all colors and sizes thanks to a wet weather window encouraging wild fungal growth.  

The festival is a celebration of the connections found in the coastal Alaskan ecosystem between fungus, forest and fish.  

At the end of the summer, as wild salmon make their way into the stream system to spawn and die, the nutrients left behind by their carcasses are broken down by fungal decomposers. Without fungi species in the forest, many of these valuable marine nutrients would not be processed into a form usable by plants and soil.  

Throughout the weekend educational opportunities highlighted the importance of fungus as a decomposer in forest environments.  

Festival presentations this year included an identification class led by Erin Cooper and U.S. Forest Service technician Christina Das. The session was followed by a hands-on wild foray giving guests an opportunity to put their new identification skills to use with knowledgeable guides in the field. Many attendees remarked on the excellent variety of mushrooms found while foraging in the wet weather.  

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Kymberly Draeger, forest pathologist for the South Central region of the U.S. Forest Service, gave this year’s keynote presentation entitled “Butt Rot, Decay, and Forest Diseases” where attendees learned about the roles of mushrooms in forest health.  

Ken Hodges describes mushroom identification to festival goers at an informational session, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

Fungus-related festivities kicked off last Friday with events for all ages. PWSSC’s Discover Cordova educational series for kids offered a special fungus themed session for pre-K and elementary school aged children. Kids were able to dissect fungus species and make nature-based arts and crafts at Nirvana Park.  

This year guests were able to enjoy several opportunities to engage with creative arts through workshops, craft tables, live music, and a gallery viewing. On the evening of Sept. 8, Copper River Brewing hosted a small pop-up shop in the upper mezzanine of the space where guests could purchase mushroom leather bags, natural tinctures and jewelry. Much of the crowd at the brewery later walked to the Cordova Center to view the opening night of the community-based art show at the Copper River Gallery. The gallery featured art of several different mediums including watercolor, papier-mache, and functional art items such as a woven basket naturally dyed with local mushrooms. Locals and festival attendees alike were also able to make their own art at the Copper River Canvas paint night located at the Cordova Moose Lodge. The night concluded with live music at The Alaskan Bar featuring visiting musicians RUT, The Cupid Experiment, and The Goddamn Ranchhand Band.  

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