City of Soldotna

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Soldotna’s annual Progress Days event is going forward—sort of.

Progress Days usually involves a big parade, weekend market, and live music in Soldotna Creek Park on the fourth weekend of July to mark the founding of Soldotna and its ongoing progress. Big events are not really on the up and up right now, so the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has released details of how it plans to mark the occasion in the time of coronavirus.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

He looks like a lot of other soldiers. Shouldering his pack and carrying his gun, he looks out across Soldotna Creek Park from a pedestal beneath the flags, eyes on the horizon. A crowd greets him with applause and cheers.

Iron Mike, a statue representing soldiers and veterans of the U.S. military, was unveiled in the park on the Fourth of July, the culmination of nearly five years of anticipation. The Soldotna VFW post asked the city for permission to put the statue in the park and began raising money for it in 2015, and on Saturday, veterans pulled the tarp off for the final time.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna each have local trail improvement projects in the works for this year, but a change in state policy has thrown wrenches into them.

Kenai is planning to build a paved bike path between the junction of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road down to Beaver Loop Road. This would connect to the newly paved separate bike path along Beaver Loop, creating a completely separated bike path loop between Kenai and Beaver Loop. Soldotna is planning to pave paths in Soldotna Creek Park and expand a path along Homestead Lane toward Swiftwater Campground.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna City Council’s three hours of debate Wednesday raised every nuance imaginable regarding the liability, practicality and morality of allowing large events on city property this summer but did not produce a policy going forward.

The city is struggling to decide how best to protect public health in preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still allowing commerce and community in the city’s most popular park.

In past summers, Wednesday night concerts, community festivals — pretty much any time there was music, a beer garden, food trucks and vendor tents, thousands of people crowded into Soldotna Creek Park.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting large events to 250 people, with proper signage, social distancing, hand sanitizing and personal protective equipment. But limiting entry to Soldotna Creek Park, in the heart of downtown, is difficult, as the perimeter is about as defensible as Swiss cheese.

Parks Director Andrew Carmichael warned the council to expect whatever attendance cap they might set to be exceeded.

“How do you track 1,000 people or (what) do you say to the second 700 people that show up on Wednesday, because all they heard was the blurb that it was out — ‘Wednesday music is happening.’ That’s a guaranteed 2,000 people with weather like this — boom,” he said. “… We saw 80 percent capacity in our campgrounds over Memorial Day because Alaskans could get out.”

The city of Soldotna’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles along Funny River Road, Kalifornsky Beach Road, the Kenai Spur Highway and the Sterling Highway south of town cleared another hurdle. Local Boundary Commission staff released their preliminary report on Soldotna’s annexation petition May 18 and found the petition meets state standards for annexation.

Staff found that the petition reasonably argues that annexation would be in the best interest of the state, because it would shift services to the city. The proposed annexation areas compliment the profile and character of current city boundaries. And it provides evidence that the city would be able to expand services to the new areas in an effective and efficient manner.