Celebrate De Pere makes room for honored guest: bald eagle

DE PERE, Wis. (WBAY) - Celebrate De Pere is officially underway in its new location, the Brown County Fairgrounds.

And as thousands of people make their way there on Memorial Day weekend, a symbol of American patriotism is among them.

But the presence of the nation's bird is prompting change at the event grounds.

You don't need an eagle eye to spot the symbol of strength, courage and freedom soaring the skies, and people attending Celebrate De Pere may just get an up close view of that.

"We knew there was an eagle here. The eagle has lived here for over 20 years," says Jeff Tilkens, president of Celebrate Committee Inc.

She lives in a very large nest, atop an old oak tree, near the entrance to the fairgrounds.

"What they tell us is she picked this area knowing what goes on in here, so she's not afraid of the general public," says Tilkens.

But now that eagle appears to be a mama.

And having babies in that nest changes everything.

"We didn't know there were some severe restrictions when she has her babies," says Tilkens. "We're worried about her being scared and leaving, and if she has babies in there and she abandons them, we have a problem."

Tilkens says they worked with the DNR and federal officials to ensure the eagles are safe, re-planning their layout to keep people and loud music away from the nest.

Celebrate De Pere risks thousands of dollars in fines and potential federal charges if anything happens to the birds.

"It's when we have a large concentrated mass of people like we have that we get a little concerned, so we pushed that away from the tree so that we're not congregating that many people," he explains.

The large grassy, tree-filled area surrounding the nest -- roughly 350 feet in all directions -- will be roped off, with signs explaining why, so as not to disturb that eagle family.

Organizers do want people to be able to see the eagle and the babies, but they want you to do it from afar.

"The symbolism is not lost on us. Here we are, memorial weekend, a very important patriotic weekend, and we have an eagle flying, living, right in our event. It's pretty cool," he adds.