February 7, 2015 marked the first of what we hope is an annual event at Soldotna Creek Park. Even though Mother Nature gave us the coldest, most windy week of the winter, the Frozen River Fest was successfully introduced without a hitch.
Sure, there were minor issues and setbacks, but the same spirit and can-do attitude that helped get the Fest organized also helped us deal with the minor inconveniences of negative wind chills and other day-of issues.
And that’s really the story of the Fest. It began as a City of Soldotna economic development strategy that would bolster our growing brewing industry within the city and on the peninsula. The City aimed to foster the industry and firmly believed that a strong brewing industry on the Peninsula would benefit all communities — not just Soldotna’s.
To start, the City invited our local producers to begin a dialogue that would help us better understand their needs and then explore options to strengthen their businesses. We came to understand the complexity of the laws, the logistics, and the customers that can either make or break these businesses.
These discussions proved to be the genesis of the Frozen River Fest. One of the largest concerns expressed by the brewer’s was the downturn in business activity in the shoulder seasons and winter months. In addition to exploring marketing ideas and branding concepts, the group began to focus on a winter festival as a way to increase sales and visitation, and to build community through a winter event.
As the winter festival concept gained strength, so did the group sitting around the table. New faces were added from all parts of the community: Rotary members, educators, graphic artists, chamber and visitor center staff, and more joined in the discussion. Meeting on a monthly basis, they set to work and created objectives that included raising awareness of the Peninsula breweries, increasing sales and growth within the industry, encouraging visitation to the breweries and our communities, and creating a fun, community event that would occur on an annual basis.
To pull off such an event is no small matter. The group recognized this and tapped the minds of some of our successful non-profit and community organizations. In addition to Soldotna Rotary, the T-200 and Kenai Watershed Forum were invited to participate. They brought organizational strength, knowledge and resources to the table.
Events like the Frozen River Fest need capital to get established; State Senator and former Soldotna Mayor Peter Micciche volunteered to help raise funds. Through his efforts donations from Apache, ConocoPhillips, Tesoro, and Peak Oilfield Services were obtained.
In the end, about 700 people attended the Frozen River Fest. Like the true Alaskan’s they are, they enjoyed the live music, ice skating, food, and beer and wine from 12 Alaskan breweries and vintners, and didn’t let the cold get in there way. I guess we should have known — calling it the “Frozen” River Fest pretty much guaranteed that Mother Nature was going to match the weather with the name.
Another hallmark of Alaskan spirit is the way a community pulls together to help each other out. The spirit of cooperation that resulted in the Frozen River Fest is a reflection of our larger community. It was truly a collaboration of our entire community from local government and private citizen volunteer, to small businesses, state breweries and vintners, and multi-national corporations. Thank you to all who helped make this event so successful.
Soldotna City Planner
Robert Ruffner, Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director
Tami Murray, T200 Executive