Participants in the Caring for the Kenai program have come up with some amazing ideas for protecting the environment of the Kenai Peninsula in the past 14 years. In more recent years, students have restored riverbanks, designed parks, created coloring books and Web sites and even built machines to help reduce pollution and harness alternative energy sources.
They're not done yet.
Today, 12 finalists in this year's Caring for the Kenai competition will present their ideas for how they can help take better care of the peninsula's environment.
Among this year's top ideas are plans to reduce the use of chemicals in plane de-icing, ways to use biology to avoid sending car oil and fuel drips to the river, the creation of an environmental calendar and the development of new packing materials.
"I think one of the most significant ones is an idea that came forth from a student who, when she was in sixth grade, was part of the Adopt the Stream program," said contest coordinator Merrill Sikorski. "She noticed that while they were learning about the stream, they also were damaging the riverbank. So she put together a project to do a walkway to keep kids doing the water testing off the banks."
Sikorski said he always is impressed with the range of ideas young people come up with for the contest.
"The ideas are really cool, even after 14 years," he said. "You would expect the same old, same old, that we'd be running out of new things."
This year's top 12 finalists will pitch their ideas in a presentation that starts at 6 p.m. today in the Kenai Central High School Little Theater. Contestants will have five minutes to present their proposals then answer questions from the panel of seven judges. Contestants will be identified only by entry numbers until the presentations are complete to help keep judging anonymous and fair.
Contest supporters will award $5,000 in cash prizes to the winners of the contest, and winning students also will earn $10,000 for their school's science department. The school award is up from $7,500 last year, due to a grant from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association.
Five finalists also will receive $500 Ted Stevens scholarships from KRSA.
"(I appreciate that) industry continues to support this type of partnership in schools," Sikorski said. "While budgets are being cut every place else, we're putting more money out. That speaks so highly of the support that the community has for our students."
Money aside, though, Sikorski also encouraged community members to attend the oral presentations Friday to show support for students.
"They ask 'What is parent involvement?' It's being there," he said. "That's the best community involvement we can have, too, to have people be there."
Kaitlin Vadla, the 2002 first-place winner, also encouraged the public to attend.
"Just think how many people would turn out to support a football team if they were playing for a championship, not to mention $15,000 cash," she said. "I think the ideas we come up with are in some cases more exciting than a football game."
Caring for the Kenai is in its 14th year on the Kenai Peninsula. Since its beginning, the program has garnered praise for its partnership of business, industry and community and for its mission to inspire and reward youth who show their creativity for the benefit of the community.
There will be an invitation-only awards banquet for finalists and their families April 30 at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, where Mike Morgan will provide entertainment and 4-H volunteers will serve beef from the Ninilchik State Fair grand champion 4-H steer.
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