Kenai River Festival to open Friday

Grayson Besse, 5, gives Bensen Besse, 2, a twirl while dancing during the 2017 Kenai River Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Clarion file photo)

In its 28th year, the Kenai River Festival will be celebrating all things peninsula this weekend.

Beginning Friday at the Soldotna Creek Park, visitors can peruse local vendors’ wares, food carts, enjoy free live music, take a 5K or 10-mile Run for the River, sip local libations in the beer and wine garden and entertain the little ones with hands-on free activities, games and contests at the Kid Zone.

“We hope everyone brings their whole family, from the kids to the grandparents. This festival is about celebrating the Kenai River, educating and helping people appreciate the natural beauty we have here,” said Branden Bornemann, a GIS specialist at the Kenai Watershed Forum and the festival coordinator.

The festival is put on by the environmental conservation nonprofit Kenai Watershed Forum in partnership with the city of Soldotna.

In 2005, the Kenai Watershed Forum began taking control of the festival. The festival began in 1991, and predates the nonprofit, which was formed in 1997. Bornemann said the festival started in Kenai with a group of women homesteaders called the Mothers of the Kenai.

“They wanted to stop and celebrate all that the river gave to them,” he said.

Peggy Mullen, owner of River City Books in Soldotna, was one of the original festival coordinators. She laughed and said she’s never heard of the Mothers of the Kenai but that the dozen or so people, mostly women, who coordinated the first festival were concerned about issues developing with the Kenai River.

“We were trying to think of ways to elevate people’s understanding of these issues,” Mullen said.

These issues included erosion of the river banks and pollution of all sorts in and near the rivers. Mullen said the festival first took place in a gravel pit that sat across the street from Safeway in Kenai, where the Aspen Hotel now stands.

“It was a decent turnout, so we decided to keep doing it,” Mullen said.

The first festival had several hundred attendees, while now the Kenai Watershed Forum estimates that more than 8,000 people come out for the event annually.

One of the highlights of the festival is the live music, performed by some of Alaska’s best-known bands. Headlining Friday night are the Denali Cooks, who will perform their bluesy-rock music at the festival for the third year in a row. On Saturday night, big band, funky-Americana group Super Saturated Sugar Strings will be headlining. The festival will feature plenty of Peninsula talent as well. A Soldotna-based band, The Ledgers, will be the first act to perform Friday night. The band gave its first performance ever at the festiva three years ago.

“We love playing the Kenai River Festival. It’s a chance to open up the garage doors and let these songs be heard,” said Jesse Tauriainen, lead vocals and guitarist for The Ledgers.

Located near the mainstage, the beer and wine garden will be open 5 p.m. on Friday and noon on Saturday and Sunday. Proceeds from the beer and wine garden will support Kenai Watershed Forum. Keeping in line with the mission of the forum, there will be recycling and composting containers placed across the festival grounds. All food waste, paper and compostable containers will be collected and composted at Matti’s Farm in Kenai.

“Part of river protection is being a good land steward, because what happens on the land impacts the waters,” the nonprofit’s website states.

The festival is planned for 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday, at Soldotna Creek Park. The Run for the River start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.

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