Dave Lowery, KRSA, hands a free rod and reel to 6-year-old Audrey Hopper at the Kenai River Festival.
By all accounts the return to the river of the Kenai River Festival made a big splash in Soldotna. From the Run for the River participants who enjoyed the new 10K course which brought them by the river to visitors from Iowa who enjoyed eating a salmon dinner on the banks of the very river where the fish was originally spawned, it was a great event.
Twirling belly dancers celebrate the River and entertain visitors at the 17th Kenai River Festival.
The 17th annual Kenai River Festival began at Soldotna Creek Park in 1990 as a community celebration of the river and a time to learn more about how everyone can help to protect it for future generations. As the event grew in popularity and participation, new things kept being added until a larger venue became necessary for the festival so it was moved to the Park Strip in Kenai. With the move of the Department of Transportation station in Soldotna and the addition of that property to Soldotna Creek Park, folks started asking when the festival might return to the river.
The Bird Rescue Center thrilled visitors to Kenai River Festival with a live snowy owl.
Several years ago the coordination of the annual event was undertaken as an educational program by the Kenai Watershed Forum, “The people with the City of Kenai were always great to work with, but so many people wanted to be back on the river that this was the year we decided to make the return. We were very pleased with the way things turned out and we’ll probably be back next year,” said Josselyn O’Connor, event coordinator with the Kenai Watershed Forum. “It was a huge team effort, Jennifer McCard worked really hard to pull off the Run for the River, Robert Ruffner our executive director was right there with Jim Czarnezki and Stephaney Sims helping with our booth plus our three interns, Shelly Brenneman and Jan Yeager over at the River Center and Dan Pascucci on stage as emcee and all my friends and co-workers all pulled together and we’re all very pleased with the outcome,” said O’Connor.
18-month-old Liberty Lynn Lasky helps her mom paint an umbrella at the Kenai River Festival.
One of the highlights of the festival is the Hooked on Fishing rod and reel give-a-way sponsored by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) and headed up by Dave Lowery. Every year Lowery puts out a call to all professional guides and sports fishers who have a used rod and reel that’s sitting around the garage to bring it in to KRSA. The group then reconditions them and gives them away to kids under age, “This year we promised 100 rods, but we gave away 115, and we were still short for all the kids who started lining up two hours in advance. This year we even had some new rods contributed by visitors who asked how they could help and they went over to Trustworthy and bought some new rods and gave them to us to give away, actually all our fly rods were brand new this year,” said Lowery.
The festival dawned under dreary cool skies and only the most optimistic held out hopes for sunny skies Saturday morning, but the organizers were well prepared with tents for all the vendors and display units, “The event is highly weather dependent being outside so you have to prepare for all weather elements, and it did start out a little cold and drizzly when we started the Run for the River Saturday morning, but it didn’t deter the runners and thanks to the hard work of Jennifer McCard we had over 150 runners this year which allowed us to raise nearly $1,500 that will go right back into projects that we are doing for the river, so that was very exciting. But after the run the sun did decide to appear and the community turned out in record numbers and it was just a fantastic weekend,” O’Connor told the Dispatch.
Liqakaa, the Kenai River Festival salmon mascot, returns to the river that spawned him 17 years ago.
Coming in first in the 10mile Run for the River was Adam Reimer of Soldotna with a time of 1 hour, 2 minutes and 28 seconds; Mark Blanning finished 31 seconds behind. In the women’s 10-mile race, friends Jenni Mishler and Connie Best ran together and said they crossed the finish line at the same time. “For us it’s about running together and finishing together,” said Best. In the 5 mile run Josh Holly won the men’s division with a time of 18:21 and in the Women’s 5 mile Molly Watkins of Kenai and the 2007 Caring for the Kenai environmental awareness contest winner took first place honors with a time of 20:09.
Even Liq’aka’a (Denina for big salmon) the River Festival mascot seemed to enjoy being back on the Kenai and running/parading upstream for all his/her friends.
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