A trial run is underway for a 2014 Rotary Kenai River Ice Classic. Last Wednesday as the Department of Transportation (DOT) closed the outside lane of the Kenai River Bridge in Soldotna, a Spenard Builders Supply (SBS) boom truck pulled into place loaded with a 2-ton block of ice and Central Emergency Services (CES) deployed equipment and personnel. As DOT officials conferred with CES and SBS operators as to the safest way to set the block of ice off the bridge onto the Kenai River, traffic backed up on the Sterling Highway to the Peninsula Center Mall. The presence of three local mascots, Cookie Monster, Lemonhead and the Easter Bunny assured passers by that there was no emergency operation underway, no stranded whales or automobile accidents being dealt with.
According to event organizers from the Soldotna Rotary Club Sarah Riley and Josselyn O’Connor everything went off without a hitch thanks to the community and state agency cooperation. “The Rotary Clubs of Soldotna and Kenai are test running a Kenai River Ice Classic similar to, but unique from the Nenana Ice Classic on the Tanana River. Simply put when the ice goes out we have a system in place that will record the date and time the block of ice trips the mechanism. Scott Hamann of Metal Magic designed the timing mechanism that will be tested this year to be sure it works and is above reproach so we can go live next winter and sell tickets for the First Annual Kenai River Ice Classic,” explained Riley.
The purpose of the event according Soldotna Rotarian Josselyn O’Connor is to raise money from ticket sales to be invested back into the community through Rotary’s wide range of service projects and youth scholarships, “The State of Alaska by statute allows for such an event to be held by the Rotary Clubs here, so we started brainstorming ideas for the project and how it might work with the folks at the Kenai River Center where we applied for the appropriate permits and then worked out the engineering with the folks at DOT. The City of Soldotna helped set up the barriers for traffic, SBS sent their boom truck and professional operators to set the block of ice and CES agreed to do the harness release as a training exercise for their rapid deployment banana boat, so it was a real collaborative effort and all to set a block of ice on the frozen Kenai River. Which will have the potential to generate funds that will have a positive impacts in our community as it has in Nenana for many years,” said O’Connor.
If all goes well she says tickets will go on sale throughout Alaska and perhaps on line next fall, “Depending on conditions we hope to drop the next ice block in January of 2014 perhaps during the Peninsula Winter Games with live webcam observation available. The way it’ll work is basically the person who chooses the winning time or the nearest to it when the ice goes out will split the pot and we are estimating tickets will be two bucks a piece per guess,” she said.
Riley and O’Connor were all smiles as the test drop went off flawlessly on a frigid afternoon, “A lot of folks put a lot of effort into this and we were starting to doubt that we would get it together this year, but the community really stepped up and it was very exciting. We really didn’t think it would happen this year, but with everybody coming together to coordinate this it will be potentially an amazing event for the community next year,” said Riley.