Editor’s note: This article has been updated to show that River City Academy is sponsoring the selfie contest.
Both the Kenai River and the sky above it will come into the spotlight this weekend with two festivals in Soldotna.
The Kenai River Festival will take over Soldotna Creek Park in downtown Soldotna for the whole weekend with music, food, art and activities for kids. Across the river, aviators will first gather at the Soldotna Airport’s Missionary Aviation Repair Center hangar for a pancake breakfast before taking off all over the peninsula for the 16th Annual Kenai Peninsula Air Fair’s poker run.
The Kenai River Festival, the Kenai Watershed Forum’s annual bash, will kick off Friday night with a beer garden and live music; Saturday starts at 8:30 a.m. with the Run for the River, a 5K and 10-mile run. Runners can still sign up until Thursday for $35 or on the day of the race for $45. Runners can also beef up the night before the race with a pasta dinner courtesy of Safeway, offered at Soldotna Creek Park.
All three days, one common theme is events for kids. The children-specific events are a cornerstone of the festival, which serves one of the Kenai Watershed Forum’s missions — education, said Branden Bornemann, the festival coordinator for Kenai Watershed Forum.
“The kids’ zone is our pride and joy,” Bornemann said. “We always focus on providing a fun family friendly educational atmosphere.”
Fish painting, puzzle-making, an obstacle course and the famous river rockets will be available for kids at the festival, all with an educational focus toward caring for the Kenai River watershed. Most of the kids’ events are free, although some — like the Gyotaku T-shirt fish printing activity — come with a small cost.
The organizers have also been experimenting with ideas of how to get older kids more involved. This year, River City Academy will sponsor a selfie contest as well, Bornemann said.
The festival outdates the Kenai Watershed Forum itself — 2017 will be its 26th year, Bornemann said. Over the years, the organizers have seen the festival grow but tried to keep it true to its original purpose of being a family-friendly, educational event, he said. The fees go to pay for the festival’s expenses and the leftovers are channeled into a fund to pay for next year’s festival, he said.
“In 26 years, it’s hard not to change,” Bornemann said. “We’ve had growing pains, and a few years ago, we said our focus is fun, family-friendly, educational. Although we have great music coming in, we’re not going to be a music festival or a beer festival.”
The artisan and food vendor participation is growing as well — about 10 more artisan vendors signed up this year and two more food vendors, Bornemann said. Atttendees can find everything from smoked salmon to cupcakes, and adults can top it off with beer from three local breweries — Kassik’s Kenai Brew Stop, St. Elias Brewing Company, and Kenai River Brewing Co.
The festival has always been a community effort, Bornemann said. The city of Soldotna has offered help with the park and permits, volunteers staff the festival and Stanley Chrysler supports the Run for the River as the runners cross through the parking lot, for example. This year, the runners will move a little further away from the road — a plus for safety — and the businesses along the river have been supportive as well, he said.
“It’s been frankly a privilege to coordinate this festival and the volunteers,” Bornemann said. “We do consider it a community festival … it’s for the people, by the people.”
On Saturday, the Kenai River Festival will share the peninsula with the Kenai Peninsula Air Fair, a festival now in its 16th year celebrating aviation and aviating safety across the peninsula. Aviators can turn out at the Soldotna MARC hangar between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. for a pancake breakfast hosted by the local Experimental Aircraft Association. Pilots can begin their poker run as early as 8 a.m.
Pilots will make stops at five to seven air strips across the peninsula and pick up tickets to prove they were there before rounding back to the Kenai Airport and turning them in, said Mary Bondurant, the Kenai Airport manager. Pilots will then be given a poker hand in a chance for prizes such as two round-trip tickets to Anchorage, fare for two on a rafting trip down Six-Mile Creek and gift cards to local restaurants such as Froso’s and The Flats Bistro, she said.
“It’s springtime — everybody wants to get out and fly,” Bondurant said. “It gives everybody a little opportunity to get out and test out the local strips.”
There are events for those on the ground, too. The military sometimes brings in specialty planes, and private citizens can bring their planes to the airport as well for the public to see. Black Jack’s in Soldotna will also offer a barbecue lunch for $5 for members of the public, and there will be face-painting and a bounce house for children. Admittance itself is free, as is parking at the airport, Bondurant said.
Last year, between 300 and 400 people came out to the festival, Bondurant said.
“This is a joint effort between us, the airports,” Bondurant said. “It’s really put on by very few people … but it’s really nice.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at email@example.com.