Progress Days to take over Soldotna

Posted: Friday, July 26, 2002

Progress Days has become a staple in many a Soldotna resident's summer.

It is a weekend full of not only activities for the entire family, but an excuse to get outside, slow down from the mayhem of an Alaska summer and see old friends.

However, while Progress Days may be an expected event, held the last weekend of July every year, its origins are a little more elusive.

While some residents, like former homesteader Marge Mullen, believe the first Progress Days celebration was held in 1958 or possibly earlier, records at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce show this year will be the 42nd official event.

According to the chamber, the 1960 shindig was organized by the chamber to celebrate new gas lines into town, the first on the peninsula.

Mullen, who moved to Soldotna when she was 27, in 1949, said she recalls Progress Days as being more of a celebration of pride in area entrepreneurship.

"I guess (Progress Days) kind of welled up because every homesteader had an idea about what kind of business they wanted to own. I think because these were all young people, they weren't holding any corporate money, most had to figure out how to run a business on a few nickels," she said of the processional that once covered the Sterling Highway from the "Y" to the Kenai River bridge.

Since the first days of business on the Kenai Peninsula, the crossroads hamlet has been transformed by the state oil boom, tourism, pavement and establishment of the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Its population has grown by leaps and bounds -- from 21 people in 1949 to the almost 4,000 tallied in the last census.

Mullen said she thought the population of Soldotna had reached 332 by the time the first Progress Days was held.

The growth of the city of Soldotna, incorporated in 1960, and the borough, established in 1962 and headquartered in Soldotna, led to the development of the government sector as a major force in the town's economy.

Businesses grew and multiplied in fits and starts during the booming 1970s, but the '80s brought big changes.

The "big box" stores and national chains moved into the area, led by Safeway, which opened in 1982.

These had an effect on the look of the Progress Days parade, which, Mullen said, once had a more "folky feel" to it.

"There were a lot of young people on horses because there were a lot of young girls with horses then," said Mullen, remembering how the parade used to look. "We often had a little military band. More often than we have today.

"(Progress Days) was always hooked up with a really lively rodeo. Boy, that was a big thing. Homesteaders, homesteading kids had a lot of horses."

But, while some aspects of the celebration have changed, there are still several things that remain the same.

"It was certainly popular. People came to line the sidewalks like they do now. Almost every business was represented in it."

This year's parade also represents many area businesses and organizations. With more than 100 entries, Soldotna residents have not forgotten the celebration that began more than 40 years ago in honor of their city.

To celebrate all Soldotna was, is and will become, activities will be held today, Saturday and Sunday at different locations around the city.

The focal point of the weekend festivities, the parade, will kick off Saturday's events at 11 a.m. Following the procession through downtown Soldotna, there will be numerous activities at Parker Park on West Park Avenue.



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