The Kenai River may run through the city of Soldotna, but it's really the river that makes the city run.
From tackle shops to restaurants, from fish walks to nature hikes, the city's economy and recreation are tied together by the waters of the mighty river. If fact, the Kenai River is by far and away the city's biggest draw.
Anyone who crosses the Sterling Highway bridge on the south side of town this time of year can attest to the fact that more people are pouring into town. And there's little doubt why they're there.
Salmon fishing has always been the river's most popular selling point. Drawn to Soldotna for the world-class king, sockeye, coho and even pink salmon, tourists and locals alike spend countless hours at Alaska's most famous fishing spot.
However, the spectacular fishing isn't the only thing the river adds to the city. Houses, restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts and parks all utilize the spectacular backdrop the river brings to town.
On any summer day, visitors and locals alike flock to the city's Centennial and Swiftwater campgrounds in order to fish or just sit on the banks and have a picnic.
This year, the city of Soldotna will officially welcome a new piece of prime riverfront real estate into the city's extensive parks system.
Soldotna Creek Park, located on land formerly owned by the state of Alaska, was recently acquired by the city. The land, which sits on a high bluff overlooking the turquoise river, is the newest place for people to take a break and enjoy the river.
Further evidence of the river's importance to the city has been seen lately in the chambers of the city government.
A recent debate over what kind of design the state should use for a new bridge across the river centered mainly on the issue of whether the new bridge would allow people to gaze from passing vehicles down into the water.
The city eventually sent a letter to the state, asking that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities make sure not to block any views of Soldotna's prized possession.
According to city manager Tom Boedeker, a recent survey of Soldotna residents indicated that preserving the spectacular river view is the most pressing concern on people's minds when it comes to the building of a new bridge.
"(Residents) wanted it as open as possible," Boedeker said. "So people can see the river."
And Mayor Dave Carey said he emphatically believes any such project should put the health of the river first and foremost. After all, it's the city's main selling point.
"The city wants that river protected no matter what," Carey said.
Visitors to the city can get a glimpse of the river almost immediately upon entering Soldotna. In fact, the Soldotna Visitor's Center is an excellent place to watch the river rush past and do a little fishing. The center sits directly above the water, and a riverfront boardwalk lines the shore, giving visitors a fish-eye view of the bridge, tree-lined shore and maybe even a salmon or two.
In fact, July is a perfect time to pull a sockeye salmon from the water just below the center, and anglers can be seen fishing in the water there at all hours of the day and night.
It is impossible to gauge the importance of the Kenai River to the City of Soldotna. Much as many peninsula residents depend on Soldotna as a hub for transportation and commerce, the city itself relies heavily on the river to maintain its vitality, spirit and industry. Soldotna is truly the "River City."
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