With record numbers of sockeye charging up the mighty Kenai River and what seemed equal numbers of visitors charging down the Sterling highway to catch them, Soldotna's 52nd Progress Days didn't need sunny skies for folks to enjoy the weekend filled with activities. With something for all ages that included a parade down Binkley Street, rehabilitated Bald Eagle release, free Hobo Jim concert, Alaska Dutch Oven championships, and the 1st Ted Stevens Day at Soldotna Creek Park thousands turned out to enjoy summer fun in Alaska. "It just goes to show that Alaskans will have a good time regardless of the weather. We had a great turn out for the parade Saturday and we sure went through 400 hot dogs quickly even though all the cooks got drenched," commented Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche.
In celebrating the City's progress Micciche said, "From the late 1940's to today, Soldotna has evolved from a homestead settlement to a thriving, exciting community. In one lifetime our town has changed slowly and steadily from a community that met the mail plane on the Sterling Highway airstrip to a community that emails via 100 megabit per second 'packet switching' 4G service. We continue to have great projects going on from the new community memorial park to the youth skate park to the crossing here at Soldotna Creek park things are progressing nicely thanks to everyone that is active in building our community and some fine elected officials and city staff," he said.
The 2nd Annual Dutch Oven Alaska State Championships managed to stay dry under a few tents where the 2008 World Dutch Oven Cooking Champion Omar Alvarez gave tips to contestants and handed out cash prizes. "Dr. Nels Anderson brought me up here for some fishing and to help promote your state championship event," said Alvarez. "I started Dutch oven cooking only seven years ago quite by accident when I visited a Dutch oven competition during the 4th of July celebration in Idaho and I'd never seen one before, but I said, 'I can do that.' One of contestants challenged me to join them next year and I said I'll not only do it, 'I'll win!' and I did, then went on to the world championships in Utah, and won," he said.
Last year Carla Anderson was nominated to compete in the World Championships after the Alaska winner was unable to attend. Anderson ended up taking 8th place at the 2010 championship cook off in Utah and will be returning again this year with her daughter-in-law Allison, "There are two ways to qualify for the World Championships, one is to win a state championship, or be nominated by a recognized Dutch Oven Society," explained the 2011 Alaska State Dutch Oven champion Carla Anderson and her partner Allison. "We're really excited to be returning to the World Competition, last year was our first time and we weren't prepared for the extreme level of competition, but we worked hard and were thrilled to take 8th," said Allison. For the Alaska competition this year Carla and Allison entered a Middle Eastern lamb chops with vegetables and provolone cheese tureen dish for their entree, jalapeno surprise rolls for their bread, and a blueberry goat cheese and basil pie for desert, "It's nothing like what the pioneers use to cook, it makes you feel more like being on the food network," laughed Carla.
Taking second place out of the ten adult entries in the State Championship cook off was Rick & Sally Oelrich and Mike Crawford and his partner took third place honors. In the junior division, Johnathon Kreider & Kaleb Henderson were the winners, Stockton & Ashley Jones took second, and Josh Henderson & Savannah Kreider were third.
According to Dr. Nels Anderson who says he will be happy to be the girls runner in Utah at the World Championships, the purpose for the International Dutch Oven Society is, "Good food, good friends, and good fun!"
Also taking center stage for the first Progress Days ever was the release of a rehabilitated Bald Eagle. The eagle had succumb to overeating and was unable to digest his food causing him to become anemic and not be able to care for himself, "The TLC center treated him for lice, gave him an IV to help with dehydration and two days later he threw up a pellet of the undigested food and since May 2nd we have been helping return him to full strength so we can release him to his wilderness home here on the Kenai River," said TLC volunteer Dave Dorsey. He also thanked ERA Aviation for flying the bird to and from Anchorage at no cost and the local work of the Keen Eye Peninsula Birders. Hundreds watched as the eagle left its holding box and once again felt the wind beneath its wings as it soared over the fish laden Kenai River.