Nikiski residents flocked to the North Peninsula Recreation Center on Saturday to play carnival games, eat local food, listen to live music and win all sorts of prizes during the annual Family Fun in the Midnight Sun festival. Both the Nikiski Pool and the Rec Center had full parking lots, and cars lined the road trying to find space. Family Fun in the Midnight Sun is the largest community event in Nikiski — and one of the oldest on the peninsula. Rachel Parra, director of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area, said that the festival draws more than 1,000 people every year and that this year saw an even bigger crowd than usual.
This year’s festival started Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. with a family-friendly 5K. Every runner and walker received a T-shirt to commemorate the day. At noon, the booths and food trucks opened up and the festivities officially began. Local band The Pepper Shakers took the stage for the duration of the event to keep the crowd dancing. Festivalgoers could also buy raffle tickets for prizes that were given out periodically that afternoon. Among the prizes this year were several grills with all the bells and whistles, a brand new kayak, camping chairs and a paddleboard that many kids had their eye on.
The day even brought out some of Nikiski’s elected representatives, with Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, honoring Nikiski student Kaydence Jeffereys for recently winning the Triple Crown in the Marines 2019 US Open: Western Regional Wrestling Championships.
Parra said the day has always been primarily focused on the kids. This year, local sponsors and businesses, including the Nikiski Fire Department and The Compass Youth Center, provided plenty of opportunities for fun. Compass provided a dunk tank for kids to test their throwing arms. Challenge Martial Arts held demonstrations throughout the day and the fire department gave kids a chance to blast a target with a fire hose.
Oliver Jackson works at the Nikiski Pool and helped facilitate some of the kids games this year. Jackson was born and raised in Nikiski and has grown up attending the festival with his friends and neighbors.
“I remember coming here as a kid and seeing the older kids volunteering at the booths,” Jackson said. “Now those same people have gotten older, and they’re bringing their own kids to the festival. That’s pretty cool to see.”
Jackson and other volunteers entertained the kids with candy hunts, crab-walk races, water balloon tosses and a frozen T-shirt contest. In keeping with a tradition, a separate raffle of bicycles and helmets donated by local businesses was held for kids of various age groups.
Parra said that Family Fun in the Midnight Sun has a long history going all the way back to the 1960s. Back then, a local group of dads started getting together for “Kiddie Days” at the Bishop Creek Bar on Father’s day to give away prizes and bikes to kids in the community.
“It was really meant just to be a good old community and family get-together, and they wanted to make sure all the kids had a bike to ride,” Parra said.
Fast forward to the 1980s, and the event had grown so large it was moved to the Nikiski Mall and became known as “Nikiski Days.” During that time, Parra said the event featured a parade and the local radio station would play parade music just for the occasion.
As the event continued to grow, the venue was changed to the Rec Center in the early 1990s — where it still takes place today. Even though this year the midnight sun was hidden behind clouds and a bit of rain, the crowd was as big as its ever been, and the small but proud community of Nikiski didn’t let bad weather get in the way of a good time.