Saturday at the Kenai River Festival was all about the kids.
Aside from the 55 artisan booths and 17 food vendors who set up in Soldotna Creek Park for the three-day festival, 20 additional booths and activities made up a specially designated Kid Zone — where the little ones could get their face painted, fish for trash, play a round of cornhole and learn how to dissect salmon. To tie all the different activities together, the kids were given a “passport” by the Kenai Watershed Forum — which organizes the River Festival every year — and were tasked to collect stamps from 12 of the different Kid Zone booths in order to potentially win a new iPad mini courtesy of the city of Kenai and the Watershed Forum.
Matti’s Farm — which is a part of the Diamond M Ranch Resort in Kenai and focuses on teaching children farm-related skills — had a petting zoo featuring several of their farm animals, including a two-day old llama and a particularly lazy pig that lay in the same sunny spot all day while the children came and went.
Hospice of the Central Peninsula offered kids an experiment involving water and chemical runoff. Kids were given a sheet of rice paper to color on with markers, and after they finished coloring they stuck the paper into a glass display filled with water. As the paper dissolved, kids were able to watch the ink from the markers bleed into the water. A cloudy, multicolored layer of ink sat at the bottom of the display, illustrating what happens to pollutants when they enter the river.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary had a display where kids could go fishing for different pieces of junk, from soda cans to plastic foam containers. After hooking one of the pieces of trash, the volunteers from the Coast Guard would shock the kids by telling them how long it takes for that type of material to decompose in the environment — 500 years for plastic foam, for example.
The clouds were threatening to put a damper on the festivities Saturday morning, but by the time Cousin Curtiss was on the main stage for his one-man folk rock show, the sun had broken through and wasn’t going anywhere.
“We’re pretty lucky this year, all the crazy weather seems to have just missed us,” Tami Murray, the event coordinator for the Watershed Forum, said on Saturday. Murray said they were worried about rain Friday night as well, but it never happened.
One new feature for the River Festival this year was a set of 27 barrels donated by Coca-Cola to encourage responsible trash disposal. Set up in groups of three throughout the park, the barrels were designated for either recycling, composting or the landfill. Watershed Forum volunteers stood watch at each of the barrel stations to let people know which one their forks and water bottles should go in. Most of the silverware given out by the food vendors at the River Festival was compostable.
Murray said the barrels can be used for any festival or similar event and hopes to see them become commonplace at the park and other areas around the peninsula.
The event that drew the biggest crowd on Saturday was the release of a juvenile bald eagle that had spent the last year being rehabilitated by the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. Dave Dorsey from Bird TLC told the crowd that the eagle’s name was “Screwie” because when the eagle first arrived to the Center his behavior was, well, a little screwy.
“He just didn’t act much like an eagle,” Dorsey said.
The eagle’s container faced the river, but Dorsey gave fair warning that he had little control over where Screwie started flying once he got out. Luckily everything went off without a hitch, and no sooner had the container been opened did Screwie spread his wings and take off down the river to cheers and applause. Along the way, a couple of brave gulls caught up with Screwie and began flying around him.