This year may be the first year that the weather soured enough to rain on Industry Appreciation Day, but Kenai Peninsula residents didn’t that stop their fun.
The annual event, organized by the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District and attended by hundreds of peninsula residents, took over the Kenai Park Strip on Saturday with booths, food and activities. Political candidates lined one side of the park while industry groups from commercial fishing, oil and gas and health care chatted with visitors, handing out pamphlets and goodies. Down the way, volunteers took signups for the event’s signature Frozen T-shirt contest, during which participants have to unfreeze and wriggle their way into a t-shirt to win.
Stationed nearby, volunteers smoothly and efficiently distributed cups of soda emblazoned with the Coke logo. The operation hasn’t always been so smooth, but over the years, Will and Jane Madison — who coordinate the Coke stand — have worked out the kinks.
“Our goal is that nobody has to wait longer than five seconds or so,” Jane Madison said.
All the product is donated by Coke, so all they have to do is make sure they have the cups set out and enough volunteers. They were in the midst of coordinating the little red stand when Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District Executive Director Tim Dillon called their names from the stage to recognize them for their efforts organizing the event every year. They were caught flat-footed by that, Jane Madison said.
They’ve been working on the event about seven or eight years, Will Madison.
“This is the first year where it’s actually rained,” he said. “It’s been cloudy before, and a couple of years ago, it rained right after.”
But it didn’t seem to bother anyone. Kids jumped into harnesses to try their hand at climbing a rock wall manned by the Alaska Army National Guard, nevermind slippery handholds. Kids and adults carefully climbed the metal staircase near the Copper River Seafoods stand to explore the commercial drift gillnet salmon fishing boat parked on the grass.
Scattered among the booths were young men in black jackets and aprons, lending a hand moving fishing buoys or handing out pamphlets or picking up trash. Emblazoned on the aprons were logos identifying them as Kenai River Brown Bears players. The junior hockey league team based in Soldotna attracts players from all over the world to come play in Alaska.
This year’s team members have only been here a week, but they’ve already collectively volunteered more than 275 hours, said coach Josh Petrich. Community service isn’t a requirement of being a team member, but it’s something they look for when interviewing players.
“We don’t have any owner, so the community basically owns our team,” he said. “It’s our thank you.”
The Madisons weren’t the only people to walk away with awards. Organizers gave away industry-oriented recognitions to a variety of community members, from commercial fishing to oil and gas and tourism. The awards are a hallmark of the event, which has now ticked off its 27th year.