Soldotna Creek Park

Sabine Poux/KDLL

You may have seen it in Soldotna Creek Park — a big chalkboard with the words “Before I die” written across the top.

“Before I die I want to find peace,” reads one line. “Before I die I want to fall in love,” says another.

It’s part of an existing network of similar walls in at least 78 different countries. Shari Conner, of Change 4 the Kenai, brought the concept to the peninsula. 

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.

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.”

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

About three hundred people lined the Sterling Highway on Saturday afternoon, peacefully protesting police brutality. But peacefully doesn’t mean quietly—the crowd loudly chanted "Black lives matter!" and cheered when people spoke on the stage in the park.

A project to pave gravel paths at Soldotna Creek Park and connect the trail system to Homestead Lane is still in limbo, due to a change in how the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities administers grant funding.

Adding asphalt to the gravel trails would make them ADA accessible, and constructing a new, paved path to the sidewalk on Homestead Lane would connect two trails systems.

At Wednesday's Soldotna City Council meeting, City Manager Stephanie Queen said the city got a notification in May that the city's grant application was approved. The city's budget was for right around $550,000, with Soldotna providing a 20 match of about $100,000. Design and prep work for the project has already been completed. But the grant money has not arrived.

"The grant agreement paperwork was supposed to be forthcoming," Queen said. "We've received nothing until last week with a letter I got from the DOT saying that the budget is not $550,000, it's $1.5 million, so our 20 percent match is now $300,000. And this, despite numerous attempts for us to get a handle on what's happening, what the progress is. These projects were supposed to be built last year. "