Several months of careful preparation boiled down to 10 frantic hours Friday, as the Kenai Peninsula played host to the international Arctic Winter Games Site Committee.
The committee was in town for its first -- and only -- visit to the peninsula before making a decision on which Alaska city will host the 2006 games. Both Fairbanks and Juneau have made bids to host the games, which feature youth sports competitions for athletes from northern regions of the world.
The visit began at 10:15 a.m. at Kenai Municipal Airport, where a red carpet was rolled out to meet the six site committee members at the plane. From there, the committee was treated to a tour of the central peninsula the likes of which few have ever experienced.
Committee members and local organizers were shuttled by motor coach to facilities in Kenai and Soldotna planned for use during the games. The first stop was Kenai Central High School, where more than 1,000 people -- many waving Arctic Winter Games signs -- packed the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium for a raucous welcome.
Bid organizer Jack Brown told the crowd he was thrilled so many showed up to voice support for the games.
"We really want to thank you for this tremendous outpouring of support," Brown said. "We were hoping we'd have 100 people here. I guess we did a little better than that."
To begin the rally, committee members were treated to a formal welcome by members of the local Dena'ina Kenaitze Indian tribe.
"Yaghali du," said Kenaitze elder Clare Swan, using the traditional Dena'ina language to welcome the committee to the peninsula. Following Swan's remarks, the Kenaitze Dena'ina Jabila'ina Dance Group performed traditional welcoming songs and dances for the committee.
The enthusiastic crowd, many of them Kenai students, cheered throughout the rally, excited about the prospect of hosting the games on the peninsula.
The committee members get red-carpet treatment on their arrival to Kenai Municipal Airport.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"Everyone came together and was really enthusiastic about having the Arctic Winter Games here in our town," said Kenai senior Logan Manser after the event.
Following the rally, committee members began the arduous task of inspecting many of the proposed games venues.
The tour included stops at the Kenai Multi-Purpose ice rink, the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, Kenai Golf Course, Soldotna High School, Soldotna Middle School, Redoubt Elementary, Skyview High School and the Soldotna Sports Center.
At each stop, the committee heard presentations from local bid committee members on all aspects of the peninsula's plan for hosting the games, from athlete housing to rifle storage.
At SoHi, site of the proposed main athlete's village, the committee heard plans for making accommodations for an estimated 2,000 athletes.
Committee member Deb Holle showed them a sample room, complete with bunk beds and foot lockers. Holle said the committee has spent countless hours designing a plan for making things as comfortable as possible for the visiting athletes.
"We are only here to attend to the care and comfort of our visitors," Holle told the committee.
The sample room appeared to impress committee members.
"This is a great, spacious area for spending a week," remarked committee member John Rodda of Eagle River, following Holle's presentation.
Members of the site selection committee and local supporters of the peninsula's bid applaud as youths demonstrate Native Alaskan games in Kenai Central High School's gym.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Similar presentations at the various sites included plans for athlete health care, security, food service, entertainment, foreign language and spectator seating.
At Skyview, committee members were shown a presentation on plans for making the 2006 games a high-tech affair.
In front of a backdrop of computer screens inside the library and cross-country skiers outside, information technology committee chair Bob Jones described his plan for bringing the games to a worldwide audience via the Internet.
"There's no reason why we can't chronicle these games and pass them on," Jones said, telling the committee about plans to digitally record and broadcast games events.
"We think we can really publicize and promote these games."
At the sports center, the site committee was given a brief overview of plans for staging the individual events. Sports committee chair Andrew Carmichael said a lot of work has gone into ensuring athletes will have top facilities available.
"We'll continue to put the athletes and participants first in everything we do," Carmichael said.
He added that any necessary improvements that must be made to existing facilities -- such as adding seating at the Kenai rink -- will be well worth the effort both for the 2006 games and beyond.
"We want to do what we can, not only so the athletes have fantastic facilities, but to also use that as a springboard to have fantastic facilities for all Alaska," he said.
Dancers from the Kenaitze Dena'ina Jabila'ina dance group perform at Renee C. Henderson Auditorium during a welcoming ceremony for the site selection committee.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
After the sports center, the site committee was taken to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center for final presentations. There, the committee heard how area organizers plan to pay for hosting the event.
Revenue development committee chair Bill Popp said the bid committee has proposed a budget of around $5.2 million for hosting the games.
That money, Popp said, will come from a mix of private, business and governmental sources. Popp said he's confident the money can be raised.
"We have, in my opinion, a proven history of being able to do these kinds of projects," Popp said, mentioning the Alaska SeaLife Center, the sports center and the Challenger Center as examples of the peninsula's ability to secure funding for major projects.
Following the presentations, area political leaders took one last chance to promote the peninsula's ability to host the games.
"Every time the citizens here are challenged to de something great, they perform," said Kenai Mayor John Williams.
Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey agreed that the area has what it takes to host the games and said he's just happy with the level of enthusiasm he saw during the day's events.
"We have seen each other today at our best," Carey said. "Whatever happens, we are a better place because of today."
Following the tour, site committee technical director Ian Gegaree of Yellowknife, Canada, said he was pleased with the comprehensiveness of the peninsula bid.
"It was a pretty full day," Gegaree said. "We were very impressed."
Gegaree said the entire 10-person international committee likely will decide which Alaska city gets to host the 2006 games near the end of next month.
Following the tour, Brown said he was optimistic that the community had impressed the committee with its dedication and enthusiasm for hosting the games.
"I think we did everything we could," Brown said. "If any other community can do what we've done, I take my hat off to them."
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