For sixty years, the annual Progress Days parade has marched forward, in step with the city, growing and bringing together the community.
On Saturday, community members lined the streets between Soldotna High School and the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building and the sun shined bright in celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of Progress Days.
For 26 years, Tracy Hillhouse-Price has come back to Soldotna for the parade, whether she lived in Juneau, Anchorage or Sitka. She found herself in Soldotna again on Saturday, watching the parade from the front lawn of the Joyce K. Carver Memorial Soldotna Public Library, and shading herself from the bright, afternoon sunshine.
“My first parade that I went to, I was four years old,” Hillhouse-Price said.
“She walked in that first parade,” her mother, Theresa Hillhouse, said.
The pair said a big draw for them to keep coming back is family.
“Progress-wise, the city has definitely developed more,” Hillhouse-Price said. “The families have stayed and the people have come back, they want to come back.”
The theme of family ran strong throughout the parade route, with entire clans sitting on their front lawns or along the sidewalks.
“Family, it’s all about family,” Ardie Crawford said. “It’s tradition, we’ve been dragging my kids down to this parade every year. We do it all, the parade, the rodeo, everything… and we’ll continue to do it.”
Crawford knows her family will be attending future Progress Days, but it is a question of what Soldotna will look like in the years to come.
“I would love to see more of a downtown area,” Hillhouse-Price said. “You just don’t have that here, someplace to stroll and take a look into the shops.”
With continued growth, though, others hope that residents stay responsible.
“I would like to see much, much less trash,” said Zoey Welch. “I wish that, in the future, we have a happy environment no matter what.”
Other residents are more specific with their dreams for Soldotna.
“I want to do dancing and gymnastics,” 12-year-old Zeraphina Tucker said. “So, I want lots more of that around here.”
The parade itself had a wide variety of physical feats, including local dance troops and Kanto performers visiting from Akita, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s city sister in Japan. The performers balanced tall bamboo poles with lanterns attached throughout the parade.
“I see bigger buildings in the future, a lot more people and I think there will be more stores,” 11-year-old Toli Boutwell said. “Like an Olive Garden, I like their breadsticks.”
Boutwell participated in the parade for the first time this year, riding most of the route while balancing on his motorized hoverboard and handing out candy in support of Priceless Alaska, an organization aimed at helping victims of human trafficking.
“Maybe we could get a Toys ‘R Us so I can buy another hoverboard,” Boutwell said.
Other parade participants were hopeful for future progress, thanks to a big win earlier this year.
“Progress, for us, is saving the Kenai River Brown Bears for another season,” Rick VanHatten, a supporter of the junior hockey team, said. “That was tremendous progress right there. It was a huge community effort but we can’t stop now.”
No attendee at Saturday’s parade seemed interesting in Soldotna slowing down any time soon, though.
“I think that people want Soldotna to get better and better,” Shirly Zobeck said. “Even through hard times, we’re trying to stay up there and you can see it today, especially on this beautiful day. Today is all about the sunshine.”
Progress Day festivities continue today with live entertainment, food booths and vendors in Soldotna Creek Park from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. The Soldotna Rodeo will start 2 p.m. on the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
The city of Soldotna will also serve a free community picnic including hot dogs, chips and drinks at noon in Soldotna Creek Park.