Progress Days has always been about fun and showcasing the heart of a small Alaskan community. In 1950 the population of Soldotna was 25 just a decade later in 1960 it had grown to 232. With a lot of hard work great progress had been made in Soldotna, which was a just cause for a parade. As we look forward to Saturday’s parade the population of Soldotna is nearly 4,400, not including the 50,000 some visitors that are estimated to join the community for fun, festivities and, oh yeah, fishing. The first parade route was from the “Y” of the Sterling Highway to the Kenai River Bridge, closing traffic in both directions. Later the route was changed to the Spur Hwy from mid-town to the “Y” and for many years the route has been from Soldotna High School down Marydale to Binkley and ending at the Peninsula Center Mall. One sourdough recalled one early parade when everyone tuned their radio to the only local station KSRM that played marching band music during the whole parade. Past parades have featured marching bands from Ft. Rich but this year it will be the local youth marching with the SoHi drum corp and other dancers, gymnasts and cheerleaders performing from local studios during the parade.
The Progress Days King & Queen use to be a tourist chosen by the SPD and given the option of riding in the parade as King & Queen or going to jail. Dispatch sources reported that most chose to ride in the parade. This year’s King & Queen will be chosen by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, but will not be announced until they pass the grandstand which will be located in front of the Soldotna Library on Binkley Street this year.
Joan Odem remembers twirling her baton in the 1957 parade and has a dated photo to prove it so we go with that as the date of the first Progress Days Parade. The kick-off for Progress Days 2016 will be Thursday, July 21st with the first ever “Market Daze” from 1:00pm – 11:00pm at The Market, artisan and food shops just before the Soldotna Bridge across from Hooligan’s. Under the gazebo there’ll be live music by Blackwater Railroad Co. and Robb Justice along with fun kid activities and a “Sip & Paint” at 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Sip & Paint is an activity for ladies who want to learn to paint while sipping an adult beverage, according Suzanna of Mt. Mama’s.
The Progress Days weekend continues with Saw Fest at Stanley Chrysler commencing Friday through Sunday where you’ll see renowned wood carvers create masterpieces while you watch. Then at 2:00pm following the parade on Saturday there’ll be an eagle release and the thrills and spills of the Progress Days Rodeo commences Saturday at 3:00pm at the Soldotna Rodeo grounds. Also going on Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park will be the Alaska State Championship Dutch Oven competition with samples available free to the public following the judging. The winner will qualify to compete in the International Dutch Oven competition this fall in Utah. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce welcomes everyone to enjoy the “heart” and the “art” of Alaska’s Playground.