With rainy days on both sides of the Soldotna Progress Days weekend Mother Nature proved again this year that she smiles upon the hard work of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and all the volunteers who sponsor the annual festival. From politicians running for offices to equestrian trick riders from the Soldotna Equestrian Association to the Kaknu Kruzers and Anchorage Corvette clubs everyone was happy to see the skies clear by the time the Progress Days parade got underway. Following the parade an estimated 2,000 visitors gathered at the Soldotna Little League Park where music and the aromas of the State Championship Dutch Oven competition filled the air as wood chips flew and chain saws hummed during the annual Sawfest chainsaw carving exhibition. The demonstration included a remake of the Les Anderson and his world record king salmon carving by Scott Hansen that was vandalized and ruined earlier this year. “Out of bad things sometimes good things come and I feel this new carving is better than the old one,” said Hansen who started the first Sawfest at his Town of Living Trees in Sterling. Hansen’s carving ended up winning the People’s Choice award. “I started out one day when I had a dead tree in my yard so I picked up my dad’s chainsaw and proceeded to wreck it, but kept practicing and teaching myself how to carve,” said Hansen whose custom works can now be found around the world.
Meanwhile as the sawdust flew and vendors offered a variety of tasty foods, Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Assoc. and his father was teaching youngsters how to properly process fresh caught sockeye salmon, “We came out to celebrate Sen. Ted Stevens Day because he was so essential in developing and serving Alaska during our first fifty years as a state and he loved to fish. Salmon is such an abundant resource for Alaskans but it’s not just about the fun of catching salmon we wanted to demonstrate the variety of ways to process without wasting the resource from filets to steaks, to strips to canning or freezing. There are a lot of techniques and recipes from smoking to preparing fish head soup which is considered my many a delicacy and we’re demonstrating that here today,” said Gease. “I love salmon and I wouldn’t waste a bit,” said 8-year-old Laura, “I’m learning a lot here today.”
When the State Championship Dutch Oven judges finished tasting and scoring this year’s entries, Carla Anderson and her partner Allison was once again crowned champion in the Adult Division and will be eligible to compete at the World Dutch Oven Championships in Utah later this year. “It was a surprise to me because I had some trouble this year with uneven temperatures and didn’t even go over to hear the results. I have been to the world championships twice and am getting better each time but didn’t feel my effort today was up to my standards, but am happy the judges liked it,” said Carla. Coming in 2nd was the team of Julie Saltz & Toni Cooper followed by Jonas Wickstrom & Sebastian Gabriel. In the Junior Division ages 12-17 Anna Henderson & Macady Musgrave took first place honors and in the Junior Mini Division ages 6-11 Will Anderson & Parker Kincaid won their first championship.
For more photos and a complete listing of all Progress Days winners visit the Soldotna Chamber’s Facebook page. “Thank you to everyone who participated, volunteered and sponsored Soldotna Progress Days! It was a great weekend of fun had by all,” said Soldotna Chamber executive director Michelle Glaves.