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Kenai River Festival canceled in 2020

Kenai Watershed Forum

The Kenai River Festival should be celebrating its 30th year this June but the Kenai Watershed Forum announced today that the festival will be taking a year off in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Branden Bornemann is the executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum. He said staff and the board of directors made the difficult decision.

“We did not feel comfortable, we did not feel like we could successfully hold the festival and keep people safe, and that includes the many hundreds of volunteers who help us put on the festival, the vendors, all the local businesses and everyone who comes out to enjoy the festival,”Bornemannsaid.

The festival is held the second weekend in June and is a highlight of the summer on the central Kenai Peninsula, with bands, educational activities for kids, the Run for the River and other activities. Canceling has financial ramifications for the Watershed Forum and its many vendors, sponsors and other participants.

We do have staff that kind of work on the festival all year. So we do incur expenses all year and we rely on sponsorships, we rely on vendor fees and other forms of income at the festival. We’re working with all of those groups to refund their commitment. (Or) if their business situation allows, to allow them to donate that to help us continue to sustain the festival, or moving those commitments from 2020 to 2021,”Bornemannsaid.

This is the first of many decisions facing the Watershed Forum. Summer is their busiest time of year, between the festival, a popular kids summer camp and fieldwork season on water quality monitoring and other data collection. Bornemann said they usually bring six or seven interns up to Alaska every summer and those trips are on indefinite hold. They’re considering how to conduct summer camp in a way that prioritizes safety. And they’re working with their research partners, many of them state and federal government agencies that have their own rules and restriction on what kind of work can happen right now.

“I think, just like everybody else, reacting to the decisions as they come and trying to maintain our composure and professionalism and move forward with the community in mind in what decisions make the most sense for all of us as a whole,” he said.

Having River Fest off their plate is a disappointment but allows the Watershed Forum to focus on other matters, including River Fest 2021

“We value this event as a way to connect and build a sense of community and a sense of place with our community and our supporters and all that revolve around that world. We’re going to miss that this year, there’s no doubt about it, but I hope folks can understand that this decision allows us to successfully refocus our efforts and maintain our pace of work on next year’s festival and bring that back like we would any other year,” Bornemann said.

Keep in touch with the Kenai Watershed Forum, including a decision on summer camp, at their website,

Editor’s note: Branden Bornemann is a member of the KDLL Board of Directors.

Jenny Neyman has been the general manager of KDLL since 2017. Before that she was a reporter and the Morning Edition host at KDLL.
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