Jack Alexander admires a glass float hanging outside Rusty Swan's Beach Baubles booth at the Kenai River Festival on Saturday afternoon at the park strip in Kenai. The family event continues today.
Photos by M. Scott Moon
The Kenai River is the flowing life-blood of the Kenai Peninsula’s beating heart and at no time is this more obvious than during the annual Kenai River Festival.
“We hope this provides in a fun way inspiration and motivation to care about the river,” said Robert Ruffner, director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, in regard to the two-day event.
The festivities started Saturday with a 5-kilometer race though the streets of Kenai, and continues today featuring a wide variety of river-themed cultural, educational and entertainment events to bring to the surface the importance of this watershed.
In his 18-foot fiberglass skiff, commercial fisherman Jerry Brenneman of Cohoe hauled in his setnets hand over hand. But, rather than pulling buoys out of Cook Inlet, Brenneman and his boat were high and dry on the grassy Kenai Green Strip Park.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of what we do and this shows people a little bit of the work involved,” he said.
Rita and Roy Lindsey's dog D.T. gets a break as their grandson Izzy stretches his legs while perusing the festival's offerings Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Brenneman said his work on the open water is exiting and he was hoping to instill that excitement in festival-goers, while simultaneously transmitting an important educational message.
“We’re trying to continue making people aware that commercial fishing is a viable part of the community. It’s a base industry and one that this community is built on,” he said.
Mike Wiley, a Kasilof commercial fisherman and member of the Kenai River Fisherman’s Association, echoed similar sentiments about his organization’s presence at the festival.
“We want people to know that commercial fisherman are interested in caring for the Kenai and that we’re good stewards of the resource, but not a lot of people can get out and see what we do in the boats,” he said.
At least one person, Kathy Matta of Funny River, was snagged by what the commercial fisherman had to say. She said she was even considering joining a setnet crew to pick fish for the summer as a result of attending the festival.
“It sounds good. I like fish and want to be outside and on the water, and I don’t mind hard work,” she said.
Commercial fisherman weren’t the only folks using the festival to draw new interest into their industry or organization.
Kimi Trefon, 8, concentrates on a science experiment offered to young people who visit the Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Sciences booth.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Kenai River Sportfishing Association hooked the attention of children during their giveaway of 150 refurbished rods and reels that came to them by way of donations.
“We believe, if you put a rod and reel in a young person’s hand, they’ll grow up to be good people,” said KRSA member Ron Rainey of Kenai.
“I think it’s excellent,” said Henia Minium, whose 5-year-old daughter, Alie, received a free rod and reel. “She fishes already, but now she’ll have her own.”
Rainey said the rod and reel giveaway was one of several programs, projects and services that KRSA is involved in.
“We’re into angler education trying to teach people to fish without damaging the habitat. We also are heavily into bank restoration for banks that have been destroyed. And, we fund research studies to improve salmon survivability in a heavily fished commercial and sport area like the Kenai, Kasilof and Cook Inlet.”
In all, more than 40 agencies, organizations, vendors and politicians were in attendance to greet the excess of 4,000 people organizers said they’re expecting to come through.
The festival is able to sustain itself because of support from numerous corporate and individual donors and many individual volunteers.
All of which proves that in regard to the Kenai Peninsula, like Norman Maclean’s book, a river runs though it in more ways than one.
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