Concept for Kenai River Ice Classic tested

Breakup on the clock

A two-ton block of ice was lowered onto the Kenai River just below the Soldotna Bridge on Wednesday, part of a test run for a potential Kenai River Ice Classic.

If all goes according to plan, participants will be able to buy guesses as to what time the block of ice will fall into the river — signalling a breakup of winter ice and impending spring.

Proceeds from the classic will be split among the winners and the Kenai and Soldotna Rotary clubs, which are sponsoring the project.

Sarah Riley, a board member of the Soldotna Rotary, said the two clubs have had exclusive rights to conduct an ice classic on the Kenai River for more than two decades and have never taken advantage of the opportunity.

Like the Nenana Ice Classic, which takes place about 55 miles from Fairbanks, organizers originally considered putting a tripod on the ice which would stop a clock when it tipped over; however, king salmon habitat foiled those plans.

“We had to get permission and permitting through approximately five different agencies,” Riley said. “... They would not allow permitting for that because of it being a protected salmon area and right beneath the bridge is a specific king salmon spawning ground, so we couldn’t do anything that could disrupt the base of the river.”

Riley said the group came up with the idea of using a block of ice and as the organization already cuts the ice for the Peninsula Winter Games the idea worked well.

Scott Hamann, a board member of Kenai’s Rotary, designed the timing mechanism which he described as “fairly simple.”

“When the project got handed over to me, they had a little five-dollar bedside alarm clock and just run a cord to it and it would unplug the clock at a certain time, but that didn’t make sense to me,” Hamann said.

So, he designed something a little more complex.

“The problem with the timing mechanism being up there by the bridge is, it’s still kind of tidal up there ... what I basically did was just run a retractable spool onto a spring loaded arm, once it pulled far enough to the bottom of the reel then it would pull an arm, which would pull a cable, which would pull another arm.”

Ultimately, an electronic timekeeper should punch a date and time stamp onto a piece of paper inside of a locked box underneath the bridge.

“Hopefully it will work pretty good,” Hamann said. “I would assume that probably in the future as we do this we’ll probably end up with some kind of a camera system with something on the ice and maybe mounted on the side just to have live streaming video.”

Riley said people like Hamann played a big role in getting the project off the ground this year.

“The whole communities kind of rallied around this,” Riley said. “Everybody that has asked about it has been very positive and wondering about when (they) can buy tickets. We’re kind of excited about it. It’ll allow us to hand out larger scholarships to area students and do projects that are such that they enhance our communities.”


Rashah McChesney can be reached at

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