Twenty two years ago a hand full of local residents including homesteader Marge Mullen and her daughter Peggy felt it was time to have an event to celebrate and educate the community on the magnificent Kenai River and the importance of keeping it healthy. Thus began the Kenai River Festival which this year saw more than 10,000 visitors attend the free event that featured over 40 vendors, and 100 some volunteers working shifts through out the weekend according to Lisa Beranek, festival coordinator for the Kenai Watershed Forum which is now the Festival Presenter at Soldotna Creek Park.
This year's festival featured entertainment designed with conservation in mind that started with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's Deldumi drummers and was followed by story teller extraordinaire Will Hornyak. A crowd pleaser Hornyak wove together Native American legends and Russian fairytales to combine an understanding of world cultures. New to the Festival this year was the Alaska Army National Guard's climbing wall that gave youngsters a chance to climb for the stars overcoming their fears. There were other fun free kid's activities including the Kid's Zone which was bursting with information and fun hands-on family friendly activities. Kids learned how to protect the River through trivia, arts and crafts and activities for all ages. Booths such as the Sportsman's Warehouse tent let kids inner Robin Hood emerge as they learned about archery and got to practice on a shooting field.
For many the Festival was a chance to taste the first fresh salmon of the season at the Watershed Forum's Alaskan Pride Pioneer Salmon dinner booth where the Mullens famous marinade salmon was cooked to perfection on the ConocoPhillips charcoal grill accompanied by homemade coleslaw, potato salad, and Mullen Rhubarb Spice cake was a real meal deal at only $8.00 bucks. Snug Harbor Seafoods donated the fresh salmon so that all proceeds could go toward projects of the Kenai Watershed Forum.
Another popular event that has become a Kenai River Festival tradition is the "Run for the River," which this year drew 365 some competitors combined for the 5K and 10 mile runs. Heather Gaines of Kenai and Matt Bomberger of Pennsylvania won the 10 mile women's and men's races. Bomberger is a running coach in Pennsylvania. Gaines recently completed the Boston Marathon in April and said the event was a good practice run for the Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage. In the 5K Cory Route won the women's division and Soldotna's Lars Arneson took the men's 5K. "Our personal thanks to everyone who attended, all our volunteers and sponsors. The Kenai River Festival is a community celebration that is put on through community partnerships. This event would not be possible without the generous support of businesses and individuals that truly support the Kenai River," concluded Robert Ruffner, Kenai Watershed Forum executive director. For a list of all Festival sponsors and KWF activities go to www.kenaiwatershed.org.