When a few Alaska neighbors get together on a sunny day along the banks of the Kenai River, you can be sure they'll have a good time.
That was certainly the case Saturday, as simultaneous community celebrations were held in both Sterling and Funny River.
The river separates the two rural Kenai Peninsula towns, but on Saturday they shared a common bond as residents young and old took time out of their busy summers to run, dance, parade and play under cloud-free August skies.
At the eighth annual Sterling Community Fun Day, things got moving with a 5-kilometer run, followed by daylong festivities at the corner of the Sterling Highway and Swanson River Road, featuring booths, food and entertainment.
As the day wore on, more and more Sterling residents gathered around the hot dog stands, games and stage that made up the celebration along the Sterling Highway. Passing motorists, seeing the fun, were inevitably drawn to the scene.
"The more cars people see, the more that will stop in," said Sterling Community Club President Bob Oakes, eyeing the rapidly growing crowd. "Usually they come a bit later."
Oakes speculated the good turnout was due to the weather, though Sterling residents are always up for a good time, he said.
"Last year it was pouring down rain and we still had a bunch of people come," he said. He then jokingly claimed he personally ordered the sunny conditions.
It would be hard to find anyone who didn't share Oakes' jovial outlook on the day. Even the band was laughing.
Following their performance on the main stage, musicians Don Weller and J.D. Uponen discussed what Saturday's performance, which was free of charge, meant to them.
"We did this just for fun," Weller began.
"Just today, though," chimed in Uponen, reminding Weller that they still had a couple paying gigs left to do this weekend.
"It's actually been a real busy weekend. If we play a couple times a month, it's busy, and we have three this weekend," he said.
Weller said the Sterling event is one of his favorites, mainly because of the community spirit the day brings.
"It's quite a fun thing. We had a great time," he said. "Probably because the people are all Alaskans -- or transplants, like me."
In addition to the party by the highway, the day featured a bevy of other events, including the 23rd annual Moose River Raft and Canoe Races, a bike race for kids, plays, music and even the requisite political candidates.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Dakotah Thompson has her face painted by Lindsay Musgrove Saturday during the Funny River Festival.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
The success of the event, said Oakes, was the fact that everybody pitched in to help, from churches to youth groups to area bars.
"It's a community event. That's it," Oakes said.
Perhaps even more of a community event took place five miles away in Funny River. For a town of just a couple hundred residents, Funny River people know how to throw a party. The residents took over the the main drag, Funny River Road, for a whole weekend of festivities, featuring a parade, golf tournament, booths, face painting, card tournaments, an auction and community dinners.
The Funny River Festival continues through today with activities beginning with a pancake breakfast at 10 a.m., continuing throughout the day and culminating in a salmon bake and community picnic at 3:30 p.m. Closing ceremonies will follow.
When it's all over, both neighboring towns, separated by a river, will have shown true Alaska community spirit. Even the sun, often hard to find in August, proved to be a good neighbor.
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