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Ninilchik fair celebrates half a century

Posted: Thursday, August 16, 2001

It's fair time. And with 50 years of momentum, this year's Ninilchik Peninsula State Fair promises to be the biggest and best since it opened its doors in Ninilchik in 1951.

Between 9 a.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Sunday, there will be sights to dazzle the eyes, music to keep toes tapping, foods to satisfy hungry tummies and activities to wear out the heartiest participates. There will be musicians, a hypnotist, a magician, an appearance by the current and the former World Wrestling Federation champions, a beauty pageant and a family-style rodeo.

A 6-mile run timed to coincide with Sunday's low tide will start at the fairgrounds, heads south on the Sterling Highway to the beach where it doubles back, crosses the mouths of Deep Creek and Ninilchik River, loops up to the Sterling Highway and returns to the fairgrounds.

A "round hauling" competition Sunday will draw from the peninsula's commercial fishing roots and pit contestants against each other as they drag cork lines and weights into a skiff.

Lumberjacks will vie for cash, trophies and a new chain saw in events sponsored by Gates Construction.

In honor of the fair's 50-year history, founder Mary Hawkins, 80, will be the grand marshal in Saturday's parade.

As the theme says, "Fifty years -- and just the beginning!"

"The whole feeling is to make it a family opportunity, an educational experience so everyone learns something, and let everyone have fun, too," said Vicki Steik, vice president of the Ninilchik Fair Association and master superintendent of the annual event.

In her role, Steik recruits some 100 volunteers from all corners of the peninsula.

"It is the showcase of the Kenai Peninsula," Steik said. "We are the Kenai Peninsula State Fair, and we really do work hard to make everyone feel part of it."

Beemun's Variety is sponsoring the fair's doll department -- a perfect match for the craft supplies carried at Beemun's Soldotna store, according to Steve Beeson, one of Beemun's owners.

Anchor River Inn makes an appropriate sponsor for the baked goods and confections department.

"We used to have a bakery, so this is really fitting," said Jesse Clutts, ARI manager. "We began our sponsorship several years back as a way of giving back to the community that supports us."

Clutts said his biggest reason for attending is to see people he doesn't always have the opportunity to see. With attendance numbers reaching 10,000 last year and at least that many expected this year, he should be able to do plenty of visiting.

Unocal Oil and Gas is sponsoring the horticulture department, according to Kevin Tabler, Unocal's land and government affairs manager.

"Unocal has always participated in events on the Kenai because we've been on the peninsula for such a long period of time and many of our employees are active participants down there," said Tabler from Anchorage on Wednesday. Like Clutts, he said, "Really, the key point is the part of giving back to the community."

Tabler said as Unocal's operations expand on the peninsula, "You should see an increase in our participation and involvement."

Ninilchik General Store, sponsor of the fair's art department, has tantalized entrants and inspired would-be artists by displaying the division trophy on the store's counter.

Nancy Veal, 4-H youth development agent with the Cooperative Extension Service, offered an example of how the fair ties in with other events, including the upcoming 100-year anniversary of 4-H.

"This year starts the celebration," Veal said.

Local members -- some 125 peninsula youth -- began setting up the 4-H exhibit building Monday. On Saturday, Norm Blakeley will be the auctioneer at the organization's junior market livestock auction. Veal said Blakeley has committed to purchase meat that will, in turn, be donated to the Industry Appreciation Day later this month.

Marti Krohn, of Homer, is president of the Ninilchik Fair Association. Over the weekend, Krohn will supervise two student groups that have turned the fair into a fund-raising opportunity. They have contracted with the association to ensure the miniature golf course is operable, trash is picked up and restrooms are clean.

Krohn proudly takes credit for securing the English Bay Band, a well-known southern peninsula group, for the Saturday night dance.

"That's going to be one of the best things," she said. "I'm really excited that this group is coming."

On Wednesday, fair manager Mary Clock was fielding phone calls, giving directions and answering questions about everything from where to find supplies to job opportunities. She said the list of booths had reached 90 and still was growing.

"The calls just keep pouring in. This is crazy!" Clock said of last-minute details needing her attention.

Since moving to Ninilchik in 1990, Clock has worked her way up the fair ladder, starting as an exhibitor and musician. She managed the gate for two years, was assistant manager for one year and is in her second year as fair manager.

"It's the 50-year anniversary," she said. "That's a big thing."

One thing that's certain not to be a big thing is the weather. Krohn said that rain or shine, the fair is the place to be.

"If the weather holds it should be a fabulous fair, but even when it's not really sunny, there's a lot of stuff happening," Krohn said. "And sometimes it's raining on both ends of the peninsula, but not in Ninilchik. That's something to keep in mind."



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