Kenai River Festival educates, entertains

Mickaylah McCombs is not afraid of color. 


The 15-year-old Anchorage teen bought a tie-dyed pink and purple hoodie and a pair of eye-popping yellow and orange tie-dyed pants at the Kenai River Festival and wore them together for the Friday evening kick-off of the three-day festival. 

Despite several ominous looking clouds looming overhead, McCombs was joined by a steady stream of festival-goers at Soldotna Creek Park for the 22nd annual festival. 

“This is my second year doing this,” she said of attending the festival. “I like that you can go right down to the river.”

Lisa Beranek, festival coordinator with the Kenai Watershed Forum, said about 40 vendors set up showing off their handmade wares on Saturday and about 100 volunteers spent the weekend making the festival work. 

"People come and go in waves," she said of the crowd. "It's just a continuous flow of folks."

She grinned up at the sky as she spoke and said the weather was perfect Saturday. 

"There's just enough breeze to keep the bugs away," Beranek said. 

As she talked about her favorite dish at Nissi’s Grill, a vendor parked near the stage, McCombs smiled often, flashing blue bands on her braces that stood out against green streaks in her hair and glittering purple ear plugs. 

She said her aunt owns Sugar Magnolias, just across the street from the festival in Soldotna, and the teen comes to the area to help out with the shop for several weeks. 

“We’ve got a huge group here,” she said. 

As she talked about her family, an equally colorful man she referred to as “Skip” wan-dered by to say hello.

Skip Cheever, of Soldotna, stopped to talk on his way to the beer tent. 

The retired oil worker’s long, greenish beard and bright pink sunglasses put him right at home in a crowd with McCombs.

“I love it,” Cheever said of his first time at the festival. “The salmon is excellent.”

Walt and Tina Krieger, of Soldotna, sat on the hilltop Friday watching the river as another local group, The PG Band, played in the background Friday. 

Walt said it had become a regular occurrence for the family to make it out to the festival. 

“This festival is awesome,” he said. 

He said the Conoco-Phillips salmon food vendor was the best he’d ever had. 

The coupled watched their two kids play down by the river as the sun set behind them.

According to the Kenai Watershed Forum, more than 10,000 people descended on Soldotna in 2011 for the river-centered festival.

Alongside its other offerings the free festival aims to educate attendees about the Kenai River through a series of family-friendly activities in the Kid’s Zone and free info about the watershed at the entrance to the festival-grounds.

Beranek said there are changes people may notice to this year's festival such as the return of the Alaska National Guard with a climbing wall, salmon print t-shirts with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and a storyteller.    

"The beer garden has doubled in size and there's dancing space," Beranek said. "We heard people loud and clear."

The festival runs through 5 p.m. Sunday when the art and food vendor booths will close their doors.

Several local bands, including Big Fat Buddha, 907 and the Half-Baked Alaskans will take the stage and several people on Friday said they loved the opportunity to enjoy live bands for free.

Beranek said the Watershed Forum doesn't make any money off of the festival, but that's not the point.

"We actually lose money on it," she said. "We call it a friend-raiser. The intention is to make a community event to share easy ways that people can protect the river."

Rashah McChesney can be reached at


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