The 56th Soldotna Progress Days may have grown in immense proportions with an estimated 5,000 some visitors to this year’s parade, but the local community atmosphere has remained. A time to get together with friends and family to see everyone you know and share Soldotna with visitors from around the world. Soldotna’s “Past, Present & Future,” all coalescing in the annual parade that saw 83 different entries making the march from Soldotna High School to the Borough Building. Following the parade hundreds walked to Soldotna Creek Park drawn by the aroma of wood smoke and Dutch oven cooking as the Alaska State Championship Dutch oven competition was underway. Five years ago now Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson had the idea of bringing the sanctioned Alaska Dutch oven Championship to Progress Days as part of the festivities. “We recruit people to compete every year, but it has caught and grown with addition of the youth divisions. The winner of the adult division is eligible to go to the world championships in Utah next year,” said Dr. Anderson. His wife Carla has won and been to the world competition four times as Alaska’s champion, “It’s extremely competitive and last year the top five teams out of a possible 400 points were separated by less than ten points and we came in one point ahead of the 5th place team who had won the world championships twice and only one point behind the third place team who were the current world champs so we were pretty thrilled with our results,” Carla told the Dispatch.
This year’s Alaska State Dutch oven champs are Molly Noyes & Stephanie Ferguson whose winning main course was a pork loin stuffed with pine nuts, rosemary, garlic and lemon, “You can cook pretty much anything in a Dutch oven you just need to figure out the temperature with the coals,” said Molly, “If you can cook in kitchen you can cook in a Dutch oven, but it’s more rewarding because you feel like it required some skill and focus so you don’t screw it up,” added Stephanie.
In the youth division this year’s champs were the brother/sister team of Ben & Emylee Wilson and in the junior mini division kid’s ages 6-11 years Luke Anderson & Justin Hanson took top honors.
As families and visitors toured the park that featured over 50 vendors that included human foosball the sound of chain saws and the smell of sawdust, drew this year’s Progress Days King & Queen, Ron & Kathy Sexton to the quick carve demonstration at the adjoining lot of Stanley Chrysler. Sawfest 2015 began on Thursday and concluded Sunday with the masterpieces going up for auction. The quick carve explained Scott Hansen, who created Sawfest some eight years ago, “Is whatever you can make in half an hour. I need to be simple but showcase the skills of the carver to the audience,” said Hansen. The quick carve pieces will be finished up and donated to the Soldotna Chamber for the fall pie auction. This year’s People’s Choice award at Sawfest went to master carver Derek Stanton for his 12 foot Hiking Bear.
Judged best overall parade entry this year was the Apostolic Assembly of Jesus Christ Church, best Bicycle entry was the Diamond M Ranch Bicycle Built for Four. There was a tie for the best business entry between Century 21 Realty Solutions and Jack White Real Estate.
“This year’s Progress Days was amazing. It was great to be back in Soldotna Creek Park, by the beautiful Kenai River,” said Andrew Rash, events coordinator for the Soldotna Chamber. For a complete list of Progress Days winners, Rodeo results, sponsors and events go to www.visitsoldotna.com.