Before the Independence Day parade began in Kenai, Trading Bay Drive was a loudly chaotic jumble of star-spangled puppies, sugar and sun-soaked kids and last-minute parade float preparation. On Main Street and along the Kenai Spur Highway camp chairs and candy bags, miniature U.S. flags and picnic blankets piled up as more than 1,000 people found spots to watch the annual parade.
An almost undetectable breeze, early summer sunshine and a nearly cloudless sky lured spectators to the parade and a festival at the Kenai Park Strip where fried food, raffles, children’s games and a beer garden drew young and old alike to the Kenai’s festivities.
Three Kirby brothers, Levi, 4, Noah, 7, and Malachi, 5, stood side-by-side on the Fidalgo Avenue sidewalk as their mother, Joy Kirby, coaxed them into staying out of the road. The three boys — like so many of hundreds of children in the street — often darted into the parade-route to grab candy. Many of the volunteers on parade floats walked their candy to the sidewalks rather than throwing it.
“Look, These are Captain America colors,” Malachi Kirby said to his mother after someone put a red plastic-beaded necklace over his head.
Nearby, Brian Womac relaxed on the Home Gallery float, kicking his feet up in a recliner and struggling to keep his eyes open.
“I’ve got the best seat in the house,” he said as the float meandered down the road and his family waved at the crowd.
Kelsey Reid, 3, seemed to struggle with a decision to lick a red lollipop clutched in her left hand and a rapidly melting ice-cream cone in her right as she rode in the Little Bitz ice cream truck. The ice cream finally won and Reid leaned against the dashboard of the van, smudging vanilla cream on her face as she watched the crowd.
Charlie Mitcheltree rolled her wheelchair down the road, pulling a wagon advertising the Kenai Senior Center’s Meals-on-Wheels program.
“We deliver,” she said, pushing her oversized, red, heart-shaped glasses up her nose.
She grinned and shifted the glasses again.
“They’re an excuse to not put makeup on,” she said.
Mitcheltree said she had been attending the Kenai parade for 10 years and has watched it grow each year.
“You learn to regulate the candy so the kids on the end get some too,” she said.
At the park strip, many of the groups in the parade took over booths and offered political messages, bibles, games, raffles, food and even sword fighting lessons to the crowd.
In handmade chain mail, wielding cushioned swords and stakes, Garren Lucas taught Rowyn Clucas hand-to-hand combat methods at the Frozen Coast booth.
Lucas said the festivities provided an opportunity to get the word out in the community about the Kenai Peninsula’s local chapter of Amtgard Inc, a national non-profit that recreates medieval warfare.
“It is also fun to teach people a new hobby,” Lucas said. “The best part of it is that it is a hobby.”
Across the Kenai Green Strip from Frozen Coast’s roped off battle arena Debra Miller was trying to wrangle her 3-year-old grandson, Josiah Miller over to one of the many hotdog stands lining the perimeter of the festival grounds.
“It’s his first time coming,” Debra Miller said. “He is loving it.”
Tricia Young sat with her daughters Hannah Young and Tirzah Young. She said the family had been attending every year for over a decade.
While it used to be the pony rides that brought them back every year, it has turned into a definitive love of the festival food, Tricia Young said, taking bites from Hannah Young’s white-powder covered funnel cake.
Within earshot of the feasting family, Dave Thompson read personal pieces, song lyrics and poems to pay tribute to the soldiers that made an Independence Day possible.
Waiting in line at the massive inflatable slide towering at the eastern end of the Green Strip, Ashley McGee tried to keep her five boys from leaving her side as the queue slowly inched forward.
Despite her slightly chaotic company McGee said she was having a good holiday. She wanted to introduce her children to the city parade, and said everyone was having a great time.