Welcome to the 41st Soldotna Progress Days. As we enjoy the first Progress Days of the third millennium of the Christian era, it seems appropriate to consider the past 41 years, to examine the current year and to gaze toward the future.
Soldotna is no longer the little town it was when my family arrived 41 years ago this month. At that time, fishing was the lifeblood of the central Kenai Peninsula, and there was only hope that the petrochemical industry would improve the quality of life for those of us living here.
Homesteaders made up a significant amount of the population, and Wildwood Air Force Base was a dynamic and economically important part of the community.
There was no borough government, and the people of Ridgeway boasted of the sign after passing Derk's Trading Post which stated "Unincorporated" which held for them the promise of no government taxation or interference.
A lot has changed in the past 41 years. Wilson's, Vera's, B & B, Big K, the Village Inn, Mullen's Laundry and Central Depart-ment Store are all gone. In their place we have Central Emergency Services and the Soldotna police station, Fred Meyer, Safeway, the King Salmon Inn, Alaska USA and a wonderful book store. This past month saw the groundbreaking for the new Aspen hotel. Over the years, scores of businesses have come and gone.
Nowhere has the change been more obvious than in government. I graduated from the eighth grade at Soldotna Elementary School in 1966. It was the only school in Soldotna. We all attended Kenai for high school, and in 1970 I was part of the first class to go to all four years through the new Kenai Central High. Today we have Redoubt and Soldotna elementary schools along with Soldotna Middle School. In 1980, we finally got a high school; and, in 1990, an additional high school, Skyview.
The oil industry front loaded taxation so that the borough government could be formed in the 1960s with Soldotna as the borough seat. We got a second road to Kenai with the opening of Kalifornsky Beach Road and Bridge Access Road. Central Peninsula General Hospital was built in Soldotna; today the health industry ranks a close second in the economic benefit it provides to the community. Our airport is a thriving hub for residential users and recreational users. Our library continues to grow and is helping to move us into the electronic world.
The Kenai River is still the environmental lifeblood of the community. Our chamber of commerce is the envy of the state and the Kenai River Classic promotes sound environmental protection along with sensible citizen usage.
The city has 10 parks within its borders. Just this month I participated in the ribbon cutting for the new Swiftwater Habitat Restor-ation Project walkways which compliment Centennial Park, Soldotna Creek Park and the visitors' center walkways.
Most importantly, the people of the greater Soldotna metropolitan region continue to be young of age and heart, independent and growing in quality of life. We have doubled the number of senior citizens in the last decade to 10 percent of our population and our churches are filled with young families enjoying the Alaska way of life. We are connected with fiber-optics, paved roads and good spirit.
It would not be appropriate to think about Soldotna today without remembering those who came before. This past year has cut deeply into the pioneer pool from which we arose. A partial list of those we have lost this past year includes Ruth Soberg, Don Metteer, Mary Mahan, Claude Bradford, Liz Bolstridge, Harold Jackson, James Whitcomb, Junetta Call, Frank McIlhargey, Charlie Parker and Leonard Davis.
In looking toward the future, we are considering a new convention-events center, we will have a new five-lane bridge across the Kenai coming in 2003, and the area continues to be blessed with moderate growth and awesome people.
Let's all enjoy Soldotna's Progress Days and continue to be thankful for the local residents and all our many visitors.
Dave Carey is the mayor of Soldotna.
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