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Thousands descend on Soldotna for annual Progress Days festivities

Fun in the Sun

Posted: July 26, 2014 - 9:42pm  |  Updated: July 26, 2014 - 10:04pm
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Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion (left) Hailey, Sondra, Roy and Taylor Stonecipher watch as Carmen West, of Hatcher Pass, works on a chainsaw carving during the Soldotna Progress Days festival Saturday July 26, 2014 at the Soldotna Little League fields.
Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion (left) Hailey, Sondra, Roy and Taylor Stonecipher watch as Carmen West, of Hatcher Pass, works on a chainsaw carving during the Soldotna Progress Days festival Saturday July 26, 2014 at the Soldotna Little League fields.

Silas Hamilton, 3, Gus Miller, 9, and Michael Greist Beltz, 7, clustered around a group of toy cars and with the single-minded determination of professionals, raced them down a flexible orange temporary track stretching out of a booth near the entrance to the Soldonta Little League Fields. The boys seemed oblivious to the bevy of chainsaws running less than 100 feet away as several Sawfest artists filled the air with woodchips and sawdust carving huge hunks of wood into art set to be auctioned off during the last day of Soldotna’s 55th annual Progress Days celebrations.

Between designer cupcakes, a hodge-podge of fried food and easily available sugary drinks, hundreds of children — many who seemed to be in a post-parade candy haze — swarmed an enormous inflatable obstacle course set up by the Alaska Army National Guard and ran through in groups of two and three. Makenna Dreyer, 9, got at least three-feet of air on her last inflatable-assisted jump, grinned and ran to the end of a long line to go again.

Just after 2 p.m., a juvenile eagle named Sparky was released by Alaska TLC, a bird treatment and learning center organization from Anchorage.

At least 200 people watched a white box burst open as the mottled eagle took to the sky.

The eagle was one of 6 rescued from a dump in Adak where a routine fire left hot coals on the ground.

The young eagles did not recognize the hazard, landed, and were badly burned, said Alaska TLC representative Dave Dorsey.

“Their feathers aren’t fireproof,” he said. “They weren’t in pain, but they couldn’t do anything.”

Sparky was the fastest of the group to heal, so his release coincided well with the Progress Days festival, Dorsey said.

As Dorsey spoke, Leigh Tacey, of Soldotna, walked his bicycle up to the eagle-release spot to chat.

“That was fun to watch,” Tacey said to Dorsey.

“He was ready to go,” Dorsey said. “It was a challenge to catch him and get him into that box this morning.”

More than 50 vendors catered to a steady crowd of about 2,000, said January Yeager, project coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.

A new vendor to the year’s festivities, 1 Crazy Cupcake, said a steady influx of people curious about owner Sierra McKeever Lehl’s creative cupcake flavors.

Between the blueberry velvet, classic carrot and cherry cobbler cupcakes on display, other flavors like Mountain Dew, thin mint, Rolo and lemon lavender stuck out.

McKeever Lehl said the thin mint had been selling the best.

The business is a new one and McKeever Lehl, of Nikiski, said she was hoping to find a new audience during Progress Days so she packed 750 cupcakes into coolers and set up among several other food vendors catering to the crowds during an increasingly hot day.

“I’m doing O.K.” she said, with a smile.

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