River runs through festival

Annual event relocates to be closer to the Kenai

Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2007


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  Michelle Conaway keeps her dog Harley warm while watching the awards ceremony for a run run associated with the festival. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Bob Pugh, right, helps Conner Turnbull learn to cast a fishing pole in the "Casting for Salmon" game at the Kenai River Festival in Soldotna on Saturday afternoon.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Despite weather that was cool and cloudy, organizers of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s Kenai River Festival knew on Saturday morning that moving the annual event from Kenai to Soldotna Creek Park was a good idea.

On the nearby viridian-colored water of the Kenai River a lone fisherman back-bounced downstream in the hope of catching a king salmon, overhead swallows darted swiftly in search of insects, and on the far bank a large cow moose could be seen browsing on fresh foliage.

“This venue is nice,” said Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. “It’s nice to see the river at a river festival. We’ve wanted a venue on the river since the inception,” he said.

Ruffner said the festival occurs at this time of year — late spring, early summer — so people can reflect on how vital the waterway is to the ecology and economy of the area.

“Right now the fish are just starting to come back, but they haven’t hit full force yet, so it’s a good time for people to pause and think about the importance of the river to this community,” he said.


Michelle Conaway keeps her dog Harley warm while watching the awards ceremony for a run run associated with the festival.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

Ruffner said there’s another important purpose to the festival.

“It’s really a third education, in that we want people to come learn about the river and the various agencies that take care of it. It’s a third inspiration, in that we want people to learn how important the river is to the community. And, it’s a third motivation, in that we want people to use the knowledge they’ve learned to go out and care for the river,” he said.

Beyond the aesthetics of having the festival so close to the river, Ruffner said the location furthers the purposes of the festival itself, and proof of this could be seen at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Mobile Aquatic Education Classroom.

“That’s right, just pour them on in,” Patti Berkhahn, a Fish and Game fisheries biologist, said to an assistant transferring a bucket of juvenile fish — freshly caught in the river just 100 yards way — into one of the educational aquariums.

“There are stickle-backs, slimy sculpins, rainbow trout and Dolly Vardens, and at least two age classes of coho in there,” she said.

Berkhahn said the fish — which were eventually released — were on display to teach people what juvenile fish look like, what their life cycle is like and what their role in the ecosystem is.

“It’s good for people to know what’s in the river besides what they catch on their rod and reel,” she said.

The ecology lesson went beyond what was in the river on Saturday, as the Keen Eye Birders hosted several clinics through the day to teach children how to build bird houses for the swallows they saw in abundance overhead.

“Most everyone has an appreciation for wildlife and nature when young, and we want to do what we can to continue to cultivate that,” said Ken Marlow, a Keen Eye Birder assisting with the clinic.

Nancy Munoz of Soldotna said her 6-year-old grandson, Jace Munoz, enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the building project.

“We’ll put it up at the cabin and see what comes in,” she said.

Marlow said taking the houses home and attracting swallows to them is a great way for kids to learn about birds, since seeing them regularly may inspire kids to read about birds, learn about their biology and other interesting ecological facts, such as one swallow can eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes a year.

“We want kids to grow up with a deep sense of appreciation for birds and birding,” Marlow said.

Many of the events at the festival focused on capturing the attention of children, which Ruffner said was by design, unlike many of the other summer activities related to the river that he said cater to tourists or dignitaries.

“It’s for the people who live here, and especially kids, and I think it serves its purposes,” he said.

Larry Hull of Kenai, there with his 12-year-old son, Aaron Hull, affirmed that it did.

“This is our forth or fifth one. We come every year because (Aaron) really likes it. It’s hard to keep up with him here,” he said.

Since the event was fun and educational for children, it was a perfect package, he said.

“I think it’s a wonderful experience for the kids. They have a good time, and they learn to care for the Kenai and the environment, and they learn how to respect it,” he said.

The Kenai River Festival continues today at 11 a.m. Admission is free. For more information, call the Kenai Watershed Forum at 260-5449 or visit their Web site at www.kenaiwatershed.org.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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