Down to Earth with Wild America Nature Festival

Good Times at the Wild America Nature Festival!

Article Contributed by
Stephanie McCraw

A Dream Career

Exotic Animal Expert, Artist, Botanist, Conservationist, Musician, Photographer, Food Connoisseur. These are just some of the dreamy sounding careers that people are fascinated to hear and read stories about. What is it like to take macro-photography of a bee that wasn’t spotted for forty years? This was a career achievement of Clay Bolt, the keynote speaker at this year’s Wild America Nature Festival in Panama, NY.

What’s it like to win a national award for art? The festival also showcases over forty artists and craftsman with talents in everything from illustration to woodworking. Many of the artists have won such awards.

Nationally renowned animal handler Jeff Musial is a headliner this year. He said, “When I was a kid, I just loved animals. I wanted to make a career out of it, and I wanted to teach people about how cool animals were.” Musial now rescues thousands of animals through his animal sanctuary and has appeared on shows like “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and NBC’s Today Show.

Like Clay Bolt, Jeff Musial has taken his interests and turned them into educational opportunities for the rest of us. Jeff studied zoology in college and started “Nickel City Reptiles and Exotics,” an animal sanctuary. The bio on Jeff’s website says that “Jeff has cemented his role on a national level as both an educator and unforgettable personality.”

Making a Real Connection

The Wild America Nature Festival held at Panama Rocks on July 27th and 28th is a chance to experience nature up close and in fine detail. Creatures both exotic and local, spectacular insects, and conservation are just a few of the subjects to be covered at this event, aimed at helping guests develop their emotional connection to nature and a better understanding of how it relates to their modern lives. All of this along with some of the best local, artisanal food and unique arts and crafts vendors makes Wild America Nature Festival standout.

The Festival is hosted by Panama Rocks Scenic Park and Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. Historically, Panama Rocks held an early American fair on the grounds called the “Panama Rocks Folk Fair” which ran from 1973 to 1999. It was a big three-day event with living history exhibits, traditional folk music, foods, and crafts in a similar fashion. What’s now being offered, this being the third year, is a festival that both entertains and educates in the fields of wildlife, nature, and art.

Lee Peterson, one of two sons of Roger Tory Peterson and author/illustrator of “A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern and Central North America” will present on the life of his father and lead nature walks discussing native plants, including edible wild forage. Dr. Twan Leenders, RTPI president, will enlighten guests about local plants and animals.

The schedule includes plenty of opportunities to see and interact with live animals. This includes educators from Wild Spirit Education, and Sky Hunters Falconry who will present live birds of prey.

Experts in the Field

Like the bounty it celebrates, the festival is loaded with variety. The goal is to encourage guests to learn about native species, down to the smallest insect. Populations of vital insects like bees and monarch butterflies are diminishing. There are over 4,000 species of Native American bees and they are the best at their specific jobs, pollinating specific native plants. Wild America Nature Festival takes these issues to heart and brings in experts from the field of Natural History who have dedicated their lives to learning and teaching others.

Clay Bolt, award-winning wildlife conservation photographer, found his calling in life when he combined a life-long interest in insects and other small animals, and a passion for art, and began photographing insects in the natural world. He particularly focused on bees in the past few years. Bolt created a film with the help of partners to bring awareness to the decline of the rusty-patched bumble bee, eventually achieving its protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Bolt’s wild photography adventures also led him to become the first to photograph a living Wallace’s Giant bee, the world’s largest bee that many believed was extinct. Learning from someone with such a specific talent can help guests of the festival see the bee in a whole new way.

Nature, Art, and Local Food

What’s a festival without the food? The Local Food Cook-Off is sponsored by Edible Western New York and features five food vendors. The experience of eating food prepared by talented regional chefs, who utilize regional ingredients, is a special one. And the connection to nature is not lost here, either, as organic foods and edible plants provide more options for a delicious dinner. Guests will also be able to purchase food at a Farmer’s Market
Jonathan Weston, who works for the festival, says “By learning more about the local people and farms that produce the food we eat, we develop a stronger sense of place and community. By learning more about the domesticated plants and animals that we cultivate, and those that thrive in the wild on our local landscape, we develop an appreciation for botanical (agricultural) diversity and the broad spectrum of culinary options that it presents.”

The Wild America Festival on July 27th and 28th is held at Panama Rocks in Panama, NY and features over 40 artists in a Nature Art and Crafts show, wild animals, music, local food, music, speakers, and activities for children and youth. Guests can also tour the park. Learn more about the festival, purchase discounted pre-sale tickets, and view the schedule of events at