Not even the Grinch could steal the fun at the 47th annual Soldotna Progress Days parade, although the green-skinned grouch was in attendance Saturday. He was one of many characters of the roughly 100 groups that took part in the festivities.
There truly was "Something for Everyone," as was the theme of this year's parade, including high-kicking soccer players and karate enthusiasts, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, engine-driving firemen, future farmers on tugging tractors, horned-helmet-wearing Vikings, Veterans of Foreign Wars, souped-up muscles cars, and mothers fervent about breast-feeding their babies.
But all this action didn't come together without work from participants.
"A lot of training goes into being here," said Aurora Lambert of Anchor Point, the 2007 Ninilchik Rodeo Queen who rode her quarter horse named Hudson down Binkley Street on Saturday, accompanied by Mattie Cobb of Ninilchik, the 2007 Little Miss Rodeo, on an Appaloosa named Blessing.
"Part of our duties are to promote the rodeo by talking to people in the community and being in parades, but it takes a few parades for (the horses) to get used to it," she said.
Blaring sirens, screaming children, popping balloons and other staple sounds of a parade can be frightening to a horse more used to the peaceful sounds of pasture life. For weeks before the event, Lambert and Cobb worked with their hoofed friends to get them ready for the big day.
And like Lambert and Cobb, who wore their best blue jeans and dress shirts, their horses required additional accoutrements for the parade.
"They have to have shoes to help with the pounding on the pavement," Lambert said.
The two cowgirls agreed the parade was worth the extra work because it's not every day they get to ride their horses through the middle of Soldotna.
"It's fun to be here, and riding and representing the rodeo," Lambert said.
Those on horseback weren't the only ones to overcome obstacles to be in the parade. One 12-year-old young man on one wheel, Josiah ("Dirtbag," as his family jokingly calls him) Martin, worked hard to master riding the unicycle as part of the Kenai Peninsula 4-H float, according to his father, Blair Martin of Soldotna.
"We bought it for him in '03 and he never picked it up. Then about a week ago, we told him he should try again. He started rolling three to four feet at a time, but now he looks like he's been on it his whole life," Martin said, pointing to the boy who literally was riding circles around other 4-H members leading livestock down the street.
Like the dragons used to celebrate the Chinese New Year, the Kenai Watershed Forum had a colorful 20-foot-long salmon float in the parade that doubled as a costume for the five people underneath its canvas skin. Operating the fish by way of an internal plastic pipe skeleton was no easy task.
"This is the first time I've been in the fish, so I'm a little nervous because you can't see," said Tami Murray, of Sterling.
With no holes to peek out of, Murray and the others had to rely on directional advice from Josselyn Burke, who stood in front of the fish and shouted back navigations to the others.
Those in the fish also had to contend with air that was stuffy and humid, and heat much warmer than the 70-degree temperature outside.
"I'd say it's maybe 10 degrees warmer in here," Murray said.
The elevated mercury also turned the dozens of Dachshunds in the "Weenies on Parade" group into hot dogs, according to organizer Diane Fielden of Soldotna.
"It's a scorcher on them," she said.
Owners of the elongated dogs took several water breaks and rest stops to keep their furry friends comfortable. Fielden said overcoming challenges is nothing new for the canine crew and their human cohorts.
"When we first started we had problems because the weenies couldn't walk starting all the way from the high school. It was too far. But we got special permission to just jump in from here," she said, referring to the staging area behind Cad-re Feeds.
The hard work from parade participants didn't go unnoticed by the throngs of spectators on both sides of the street.
"Friends told us to come because it would be fun, and I'm glad we did. It was awesome," said Donna Koning of Michigan. "It was much better than where I'm from. Even though this is a smaller town, everyone was much more into it."
Sue Lyman of Anchorage said the Progress Days parade was better than even the Fourth of July parade in the big city.
"It was better than Anchorage's parades because (Soldotna) still believes in flags and candy, but also because there were more floats and friendlier people," she said.
Gladys Lacy of Soldotna and her mother, Olga Solomon of Kaltag, said they like attending the parade annually.
"We come every year, rain or shine. I like waving to people I know and seeing the animals the horses and the little dogs," Lacy said.
Her mother said the four-legged portion of the parade was one of her favorite parts.
"I really like those little dogs. They're so cute," Solomon said.
Progress Days festivities continue today:
* Natron Air offers 15-minute flightseeing trips over Soldotna for $65. Reservations are required. For more information, call 262-8440.
* From noon to 4 p.m. is the 11th annual Soldotna Creek Celebration at Soldotna Creek Park. There is live entertainment, free hot dogs, chips and Coca-Cola.
* The National Barrel Horse Association Fun Day, a fundraiser for the NBHA, begins at 2 p.m. at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds. Events include scurry jumping; barrels and poles; bareback dollar bill in which riders must sit on a dollar bill, walk, jog and lope without allowing the dollar to come out; and a ribbon race. Another event tandem bareback places two riders on the mount, one facing forward and one backward while barrel racing. That event is for 11-year-olds and up. Admission is free. For more information, call Beth Fowler at 262-7517.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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