19th Annual Kenai River Festival draws thousands to Soldotna Creek Park

Posted: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A picture perfect day greeted the 19th Kenai River Festival and the community responded with record breaking attendance and Run for the River numbers. According to Josselyn O'Connor of the Kenai Watershed Forum, the organization that coordinates the Festival, she counted over 3,000 Saturday alone plus a record 225 entries in the Run for the River, making conservative estimates of over 5,000 visitors to the two day event. Molly Watkins successfully defended her title in the Women's 5K for the third year in a row. (For complete Run for the River results visit www.kenaiwatershed.org. The Kenai Watershed Forum (KWF) stepped up as organizers of the event some 10 years ago and it has grown every year since returning to its original staging site along the Kenai River in Soldotna three years ago. The Kenai River Festival is a festival unlike any other in the state of Alaska. "It's a time to reflect on the importance of the Kenai River in our lives; to celebrate its great recreational, economic and educational opportunities; to learn how we can take care of the River; and understand our part in the survival of the Kenai River," explained KWF Executive Director Robert Ruffner. "This event is centered around educating our children on the benefits of taking care of the Kenai River and our watershed. By incorporating inspirational and educational activities in a fun environment, we have fun and learn at the same time," he said.

Bird House building at the Festival has also become a tradition and this year the Keen-Eye Bird Club helped over 350 youngsters construct their own bird house free of charge, "When we first started 3 years ago we had 150 bird houses and it was hard to spread that out over the two day period, so last year we had 250 houses and they went so fast that this year with the help of SBS and the Wildwood correctional facility we have 350 houses and we still may run short. The maintenance foreman there had a couple of inmates that were happy to have the job of cutting all the pieces and pre-drilling all these houses and we appreciate their help and SBS for supplying the materials," said Ken Marlow of the Keen-Eye Birders. Another popular booth was the Kenai River Sportfishing Assoc. Hook-A-Kid on Fishing program that this year handed out 160 some rod and reels to first time "fisherkids," according to Dick Erkeneff, KRSA board president. "This was Dave Lowery's idea and every year KRSA collects used rods and reels and refurbishes them to give to kids that have never been fishing. The idea has become so popular that we buy a lot of new rods to give away as well. Our goal is to get kids outdoors and get them hooked on fishing so they'll want to protect this valuable resource," he said.

The food court featured fresh barbequed Copper River King Salmon donated by Snug Harbor Seafoods for $6.00 a plate, with proceeds going to offset the costs of the event, "We strive to keep this a free event for the community and if we can break even we consider it a success, and we couldn't do that without the dedicated KWF staff and all the community volunteers and sponsors of the various booths. The community truly loves this festival and we are happy to see it continue to grow each year," said Ruffner. Underscoring the vital importance the Kenai River salmon runs have been since ancient times to the native people of Alaska is the festival mascot Liq`aka`a (pronounced Schlooka) the Denina word for big salmon. Every year since the Festival's inception Liq`aka`a has made a ceremonial run up the river as a symbolic gesture of all peoples appreciation for the returning salmon to the Kenai River.

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