Fireworks may fizzle without funding

Posted: Friday, March 24, 2006

The Kenai Peninsula Fair in Ninilchik is looking for sponsors, and may need to cut the fireworks display from events if those sponsors cannot be found. The fair has seen a drop of $20,000 in attendance revenues over the past five years, according to Fair Manager Lara McGinnis.

“We know how hard every business is called on for sponsorships, but that’s how we do it, with the gate and the sponsors,” McGinnis told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

One method of gathering funds for the fireworks display, which costs over $3,500 after a $1,000 discount from the Eagle River pyrotechnician who puts on the show, is a fundraising dinner planned for April 1 at the fairgrounds.

The “Surf and Turf” dinner, which costs $30 per person and $55 for a couple, will feature “celebrity waiters.” The celebrities, said waiter Mike Sweeney, are really just recognizable names on the Kenai Peninsula.

“I’ve been supporting them for years by going to the fair,” said Sweeney, who owns Sweeney’s Clothing in Soldotna. “They really wanted to pick some familiar faces.”

A few other familiar faces set to serve at the dinner are Tim Navarre of Arby’s, Joe Gallagher of Homer Electric Association and Steve Rouse of the Kenai Peninsula Housing Initiative.

Despite reoccurring annual financial hustling, McGinnis said Alaska’s “Biggest Little Fair” should offer enough entertainment and activities to keep peninsula residents busy. This year’s fair, set for Aug. 18 through 20, has taken “Jammin’ with the Salmon” as its official theme.

The theme is incorporated into a jingle interested parties can learn and sing in peninsula businesses to earn discount chips worth $1 off admission. Where the chips will be located is yet to be determined, but the words to the jingle incorporate previous fair themes:

“Jammin’ with the salmon, swinging with the swine, come on everybody, it’s fair time,” McGinnis sang to the chamber.

Fair favorites like the pig races, arts exhibits and the River to River Run will return this year, and the headlining entertainer will be country artist R.B. Stone. Stone has opened for Chris Ledoux and has released 12 albums over the course of his career.

Another returning attraction sure to turn heads is the third annual Backwoods Girl Competition, in which female competitors must run a trail, chop wood, flip an egg without breaking the yoke and build a fire, among other challenges. Last year’s fair had 18 competitors, up from six in 2004.

“They basically have to prove their mettle as Alaskan women,” she said.

For McGinnis, though, the fair is about more than a good time in late summer. The art exhibits for students, she said, offer something dwindling school budgets increasingly cannot: a vehicle for artistic expression.

“It’s not gonna happen in our schools — we’re losing our arts education,” she said.

She also urged the central peninsula not to overlook the fair’s investments just because of its small stature statewide and rural locale. McGinnis touted the $35,000 the fair pays to peninsula programs and residents as proof.

“We might be in Ninilchik, but we get around and we put money into the peninsula,” she said.

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