Musicians play on the stage of Soldotna Creek Park during last year’s Kenai River Festival on June 10, 2016 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai River Fest continues rich traditions, creates new ones

Coming into its 27th year, the annual Kenai River Festival in Soldotna has more than come into its own.

Set to take place Friday through 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the festival celebrates salmon, summer and the prolific Kenai River. Put on by the Kenai Watershed Forum, it kicks off at Soldotna Creek Park with art and food vendors and live music Friday night, followed by the Run for the River and a jam-packed Saturday. The celebration closes with all-day live music, booths and KWF Kid’s Zone activities Sunday.

While there are several staples of the festival — Saturday’s salmon bake, for example — the forum does add new attractions to keep things interesting, said Kenai Watershed Forum Executive Director and Festival Coordinator Jack Sinclair.

“We’ve got more artisan vendors than we’ve ever had before,” he said.

There will be 46 vendors to choose from this year, including some newcomers. And that doesn’t even include the 14 food vendors.

This is a far cry from where the festival started: near the bluff in Kenai more than a quarter century ago with just a band or two, Sinclair said. People on the Kenai Peninsula have embraced the celebration ever since, he said, using it to “give thanks and celebrate what a great river we have and the bounty of fish and wildlife that are around here, and the people who live here too.”

One new activity will cater to the kids and teens. Youngsters will be able to participate in a photo scavenger hunt put on by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, Sinclair said, in which they will get a passport to fill with stamps by visiting each of the festival’s educational tables. It’s designed to get young adults to use their phones and technology to connect with nature, he said.

As an incentive, two iPad minis will be given away as prizes at the end of the weekend, Sinclair said.

Other attractions are nearly as old as the festival itself.

“The painted fish and the fish hats have always been a mainstay of our activities,” Sinclair said, guessing that plenty of adult festival-goers probably remember participating in those activities as kids.

Having a good selection of bands to set the scene at Soldotna Creek Park has also been an important part of Kenai River Fest, he said.

This year’s weekend-long lineup includes nearly 25 bands and solo artists, including the Denali Cooks, Recess Duty and the Conway Seavey Band.

The festival’s traditional beer garden will get a bit shaken up this year, too, with the inclusion of Alaska Berries to make it a beer and wine garden, Sinclair said. Local classics Kenai River Brewing Company, St. Elias Brewing Company and Kasskis Brewery will be holding down the fort as usual.

For a complete schedule of events, visit the Kenai Watershed Forum website at kenaiwatershed.org.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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