Soldotna Creek Park smelled of kettle corn, cooked fish, and charcoal briquettes during Saturday's Progress Days festivities. And to Nels Anderson, that smelled exactly like what the event is all about -- progress.
"It's a celebration of the people who came here to begin with," said the Soldotna City Council member about the origin of the festival. That's why he organized two Dutch oven cook-offs for adults and children as part of this year's event.
"It's kind of a pioneer activity and hopefully it will happen from here on out," he said.
Children carefully spread coals over the tops of tightly lidded cast-iron pots, cooking up dishes as part of the competition Saturday afternoon.
"They're looking pretty good," said 16-year-old Jaxon Hill about her creamy chicken enchiladas and devil's tooth cheesecake she was making for the cook-off. "I never even made the recipes before so I hope they taste delicious."
She said that while she loves to cook she entered the competition "to beat the boys."
Adult winners of the three pot Dutch oven cook-off, Jerem and Jasmin Feltman of Nikiski, get the chance to compete in the International Dutch Oven Society cook-off next year, Anderson said.
On Saturday afternoon, families and dogs milled around the Soldotna Creek Park checking out the vendor booths and listening to live music from area bands. Earlier in the day, residents and visitors alike lined the local streets to watch the parade, grand marshaled by Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche.
"I just love parades. I came to the quilt show and the parade was a bonus," said Margy Teed of Ninilchik. "I moved here a year ago from California and progress there is a lot different than progress here. People here are nice and watch out for each other, that's progress to me. I wouldn't move back to California for anything else in the world."
Other attendants had one thing on their mind while waiting for the parade to start -- the weiner dogs.
Every year weiner dog owners statewide come down to Soldotna to march in the Progress Days Parade.
"I think the weenies are a big draw for people," said Pat Plesko of Soldotna.
"They're hilarious," agreed Vivian Swanson, also of Soldotna.
Faye Tachik, longtime resident of Soldotna, said she actually rode in the second Progress Days parade on her husband's red truck. She said she's seen the city grow population wise and develop economically.
The festival is "reminding us where we came from and the way we're growing and goals to reach for," she said.
Other parade goers were there to support their temporary communities.
Marie Andersen of Auburn, Wash., who comes up every summer for the fish, said she likes Soldotna a lot.
"I like the small town feel. I wouldn't want it to change into a big town," she said.
And residents like that community sense as well.
"Anchorage was getting too big for us," said Michelle Frelin, who moved to Kenai a few years ago. She was at the parade Saturday to experience the festival and get to know the community.
As grubby hands groped the streets for candy or ate the blue and pink cotton kind, parade floats from local business and politicians marched and drove down the street.
"I come every year just to enjoy it and see all our neighbors and friends," said Mike Reberg of Soldotna. "Looking at the number of people that come out to this it's kind of neat."
January Yeager, project coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, said Progress Days is not only about community development but improving the quality of life for residents overall.
"We're making the community a better and better place," she said.
Michelle Glaves, executive director of the Soldotna Chamber, echoed Yeager.
"It seems like there's always progress in Soldotna and this has been celebrating that for 51 years now," she said.
Progress Days continues today at Soldotna Creek Park with a free community picnic of hot dogs and chips from noon to 4 p.m.
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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