Those who live on the Kenai Peninsula, especially those who have lived in and traveled to other parts of the state, know the peninsula is the very best of Alaska.
Not only is the peninsula a microcosm of the Last Frontier, offering all that Alaska has to offer in one easily accessible location, but it also epitomizes what people think of when they think of Alaska. Snow-capped mountains. Frosty blue glaciers. Pristine rivers, lakes and streams. Wide open spaces. Wildlife that shares its habitat with humans.
Plus, the peninsula boasts a rich cultural heritage and a unique blend of urban and rural lifestyles -- all the amenities of a big city wrapped in the coziness of the diverse small towns that make up the peninsula.
Next month, residents will have the opportunity to share their appreciation for this place they call home with an important group of visitors, officials from the International Committee of the Arctic Winter Games.
It has the potential to be a life-changing visit for the visitors, residents and the peninsula itself.
The peninsula is one of three places in Alaska the group is scheduled to visit. Fairbanks and Juneau are the other two. A short time after the Jan. 17 visit to the peninsula, the committee will decide which of the three Alaska locations will host the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.
From our perspective, it's a no-brainer that the peninsula is the perfect place to host the games. Of course, Fairbanks and Juneau think the same thing about their communities, and each community will be working hard to convince the committee it's the ideal location for the 2006 games.
Your help is needed to show the committee that peninsula residents are committed to hosting this week-long international sports competition and cultural exchange for northern youths. A core group of about 40 volunteers has worked diligently to prepare the peninsula's bid document, but that's just a tiny fraction of the number of volunteers that will be needed to make the games a success. Organizers estimate that somewhere between 3,500 and 4,000 volunteers will be needed, and they hope to have about 2,000 signed up before the committee's visit next month.
There are several areas where volunteers will have the opportunity to serve, including accommodations, cultural and other special events, clerical work, food service, information technology, medical work, security, sports and transportation.
There are about 50 peninsula businesses where residents can sign up now to show their support for the games. Many of the businesses display laminated signs with the Arctic Winter Games logo. Residents also can sign up at the Soldotna Sports Center and the borough's Community and Economic Development Division office in the Red Diamond Center. Residents also can get information and show their support on the Web site: www.AWG2006KenaiBid.org.
The community also is asked to participate in welcoming the committee to the peninsula during its Jan. 17 visit. We suspect that won't be a problem, since most peninsula residents take great pride in bragging about this unique place where they live.
Hosting the games would be the biggest volunteer-driven event ever undertaken by the peninsula. All that hard work would reap a variety of tangible and intangible benefits.
The games would draw an estimated 3,500 visitors, including approximately 2,000 athletes from Russia, Canada, Greenland and Alaska -- and possibly Sweden, Finland and Norway.
All those visitors would create a direct economic impact of between $10 million and $15 million, not including the construction projects the games would require, organizers estimate. Those projects would continue to benefit the peninsula long after the games' closing ceremony, helping the peninsula to build a winter tourism season.
The most important legacies of the games, however, have nothing to do with economics or sports. They have everything to do with peninsula residents uniting behind an exciting project and sharing their lives with neighbors in other northern climates and cultures. The kind of one-on-one exchange that the Arctic Winter Games promotes is what enriches the lives of the young athletes who participate and changes the lives of those in the communities fortunate enough to host the games.
As organizers have said: "Hosting the games offers an incredible opportunity for the people of the peninsula to get involved in and support an international competition that focuses on youth while promoting cultural understanding and sportsmanship."
It's the kind of project in which everyone wins. We hope residents take advantage of this unique opportunity while they can.
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