For over twenty years, the annual festival hosted by the Kenai Watershed Forum has grown into a truly one-of-a-kind event, and the 2011 Kenai River Festival held June 10-17th in Soldotna was no exception. With over 30 free hands-on kids’ activities and numerous educational booths, the festival is a draw for young and old alike.
The 3-day event held on the banks of the Kenai River at Soldotna Creek Park saw over 10,000 visitors according to Robert Ruffner, executive director for the KWF. “One could easily spend a whole day at the festival and not see all there is to see – a comment we overheard several times from folks that came back for a second day.” he stated. In addition to the Kenai River Festival, the popular Tri-the-Kenai race was also held over this busy June weekend.
The triathlon saw participants biking, running and swimming their way to the finish line, many of whom were inspired by the celebrity participant Iditarod musher and breast cancer survivor, DeeDee Jonrowe.
Ruffner noted that there are several key factors that make the Kenai River Festival an exceptional community event. He emphasized the impact of volunteerism towards the event. “Kids’ activity and educational booths are staffed by scores of volunteers; over 250 volunteers are ready willing and able to help with all aspects of a 3-day event.” He commented, adding, “To all of whom we cannot say thank you enough!” The fact that, with the exception of food and wares sold by art vendors at the festival, all of the educational activities are free to the public is an important part of the festival’s success.
Additionally, Ruffner referenced the location of the event, and how Soldotna Creek Park offers a demonstration in how valuable open green space is to our community’s future. “Soldotna Creek Park is a real gem in Soldotna. Borne or expanded out-of-less than ideal circumstances; the city has made wise investments in planning and upgrading the park while maintaining a maximum amount of open space that is essential for this type of event to occur.” Ruffner said. He went on to note, “As the organizers of the festival, most of the area businesses’ bottom line benefits from foot traffic along our main thoroughfare. We know because we visited with many of them before and after the event. The new 4-lane park entrance now has well designed roundabout that makes for a much safer and manageable traffic control, while also providing a nice drop off/ pick up area and is a much appreciated improvement.”
Certainly the event couldn’t be made possible without the financial support of area sponsors. Ruffner said that the KWF annually raises and spends $25K to put on the festival, and clarified that the event is not a fundraiser for the Kenai Watershed Forum. “We do not make money at this event. It is strictly an opportunity to celebrate, gain inspiration and motivation for recognizing and protecting what a magnificent treasure we have in the Kenai River – Our Board of Directors and staff get all of this from the Festival and hope you do too. See you all next year.” Concluded Ruffner.