Mackenzie Miller gets help painting a wood fish from his dad Allan at the Kenai River Festival Saturday afternoon in Kenai. The event continues today.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Kenai River embodies many values.
It's a source of food for the salmon that swim in it and a source of food and commerce for the commercial, sport and tourist fishing industries that pursue them.
It also is a symbol of connections in that in one way or another it touches everyone who lives and visits here.
As such, it's important from time to time to stop and recognize just how much the river means to everyone, and this weekend is that time. The Kenai River Festival began Saturday and continues today at the Green Strip in Kenai.
"The Kenai River Festival is a celebration," said Josselyn Burke, member service coordinator for the Kenai Watershed Forum and one of the organizers of the event.
"It's also a time to reflect on the importance of the Kenai River in our lives, to celebrate its great recreational, economic and educational opportunities and to learn how we can take care of the river," she added.
The festival is centered around educating children on the benefits of taking care of the river and watershed through a variety of activities.
"It's fun and inspirational in an educational atmosphere," Burke said.
Kids are encouraged to take part in a hands-on children's science booth, as well as fishing clinics, puppet shows, storytelling, salmon hat making, birdhouse construction and T-shirt printing.
"New this year we also have 'gyotaku,' which means fish rubbing in Japanese. It was the traditional way they recorded their catches, and kids will do something similar by making prints of real fish," Burke said.
The wooden fish model painting also has drawn huge crowds of children.
"This is a very popular event. The kids really look forward to it. They'll start asking about it weeks before the festival," said Brenda Ahlberg, working the booth for the Boy and Girls Club.
Some painted with precision to create life-like models of salmon or trout, while other kids were more fancy and free, creating fish as surreal as a Salvador Dali piece.
"I picked pink and red because that's what color salmon are," said 8-year-old Chelsea Hinz of Soldotna.
She wasn't the only youngster expressing herself artistically at the festival. Eleven-year-old Lexie Kirsch of Soldotna decided to take an entrepreneur's approach. She sold original hand drawings for 50 cents from her booth.
"I was hoping to sell more but have already sold three, so I pretty happy with that," Kirsch said midday Saturday.
The prints she sold were of a bear, humpback whales and a dragon.
"I like to draw Alaska wildlife and sometimes horses, too, but dinosaurs are my favorite," she said.
Other children were waiting for free rods and reels given out at noon to the first 100 children between ages 6 and 14.
"It's a popular program. We already had a huge line when we got here at 11 a.m. It was organized and efficient, though, and we went through the 100 rods within 20 minutes," said Ricky Gease, executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, one of the organizations sponsoring the free fishing tackle.
"We had to wait 30 to 45 minutes to get one, but it was worth it," said Jessie Meek of Soldotna. She said she had a rod at home but needed a new one because she fishes for salmon often.
"We just came to walk around, but (the rod) was a nice bonus for her. She fishes and clams with her daddy all the time," said her grandmother Ruth Meek.
The Kenai River Festival also is a place for local artisans to display and sell their products, including photographs, pottery and jewelry.
"This festival has good promotional value. It's a good way to let people know that there's a pottery guild here in Kenai, and its a pretty good place to sell pottery," said Charlie LaForge, who was selling hand-crafted functional ware.
"Some people stop in every year," said his partner Judy Brandt.
Those stopping by the pottery booth were both locals and tourist, the latter of which seemed to enjoy a slice of community life that isn't advertised in visitor guides and sightseeing pamphlets.
"This is wonderful," said Matt Carrola, on vacation from Missouri. "There's just so many different things fishing stuff, wildlife information and all kinds of environmental education materials, then there's all the booths with things for sale and food and live music. It's really a nice festival."
The Kenai River Festival is free and supported through local businesses and organizations. It continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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