With 56 summers under its belt, the Soldotna Progress Days festival is a tradition in the city on the Kenai River.
The annual festival will light up Soldotna Creek Park in downtown Soldotna July 23–24, spreading out to include the rodeo grounds and Stanley Chrysler in a variety of events all day Saturday and Sunday. Chainsaws will roar, eagles will fly and people of all ages will ride bucking bulls alongside more tame entertainment such as a marketplace full of vendors and live music.
One difference this year is the lack of the 5K Fun Run, which has in the past kicked off the festivities. The interest has faded over time, so instead, the festival will open with Market Daze, hosted at The Market, a plaza on the Sterling Highway known for the large red mushroom statues out front, said Andy Rash, the events coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
Market Daze, which will take place July 21 from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m., will feature a beer and wine garden, vendors and live music from the Robb Justice Band and the Seward-based Blackwater Railroad Company band. Several events will also take place, including a “sip and paint” from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and events for kids.
This will be the first year for the new marketplace. Several business owners on that property, including Artzy Junkin and Where It’s At, are planning to purchase the land their businesses sit on and form a cooperative. The Market Daze event is a joint work between the business owners and Progress Days.
“We’re really excited about it,” Rash said.
Sawfest competitors can get started on Friday, but the main events kick off Saturday at 8 a.m. The annual Dutch Oven Competition begins at 8 a.m. Saturday for adults and at 1 p.m. for kids. The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Soldotna High School and will roll down Marydale Street to Binkley Street, then down Binkley Street past the Kenai Peninsula Borough Building.
Meanwhile at Soldotna Creek Park, vendors will be set up from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a variety of wares, from jewelry to food. Diane Somers of HeyWire Jewelry in Soldotna, one of the vendors, said she plans to get started setting up her booth early. She makes wire and beaded jewelry and sells it both online and at festivals.
“I always have people comment on how nice my display is,” Somers said. “I do it all myself. My husband will be watching me and he says, ‘I’m just going to get out of your way.’ I’m focused.”
Somers said this is her fourth or fifth year displaying at Progress Days. She picks which festivals she will go to based on whether she makes decent sales, and if she doesn’t, she won’t go the next year, she said. With Progress Days, she keeps coming back, she said. Sales do well and the organizers keep the entrance fees very reasonable for vendors, she said.
Rash said the organizers want to keep the fees down because they line up with the mission of the Chamber of Commerce — to promote commerce and small business growth.
The vendors will be set up in the park throughout the festival Saturday and Sunday. Attendees can also jump over to the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds on Kalifornsky Beach Road Saturday to watch the youth and adult rodeos there, with the youth rodeo starting at 3 p.m. and the open rodeo at 6 p.m. Saturday, said Chelsea Hackett, the rodeo secretary for the Soldotna Equestrian Association. Another rodeo will run on Sunday at 2 p.m., she said.
Though the club goes to a number of rodeos every year, the Progress Days rodeo draws the most participation, she said.
“Usually, we have around 150 contestants for this one,” Hackett said. “It’s our biggest one for the year.”
This year, the organizers plan to add a youth calf-riding event as well, open to riders age 0–16. There is no charge to watch the youth rodeo on Saturday, and admission for kids younger than 5 is free; kids younger than 12, veterans and seniors get in for $5, and kids over 12 and adults get in for $10, Hackett said.
On Sunday, the vendors at the market will continue, and the City of Soldotna will host its annual free picnic at Soldotna Creek Park. City council members and employees will grill and serve up hot dogs for free with drinks and chips while more musicians play, said Carmen Triana, a deputy clerk for the city and the event organizer. It’s fun for the volunteers, too, to see their constituents and listen to the music themselves, she said.
“You get to see your mayor and council up there grilling,” Triana said. “I think it’s just kind of a chance for them to engage and be part of something that’s fun.”