By Jenny Neyman
Some amount of unusual is to be expected these days along Kalifornsky Beach Road between Kenai and Soldotna — the orange signs, cones and flagging of the ongoing road resurfacing project, the bright yellow trash bags awaiting pickup from the annual spring cleanup week, and the sudden proliferation of walkers, runners and bike riders along the paved pedestrian Unity Trail, now that it’s finally free of snow and mud.
But on Sunday there was an oddity that still caused heads to turn, speeds to slow and notice to be taken:
As in mooing, grazing, milk-producing, beef-steak-generating bovines flanked by cowboys and cowgirls mounted on horseback, being herded along the road like a scene from “Bonanza,” only with motor vehicles, rather than tumbleweeds, passing by.
Even this unusual scene is becoming a traditional one for those who happen to be on K-Beach during the annual Soldotna Equestrian Association cattle drive, held since 2011 to kick off the rodeo season.
“It’s kind of fun because there’s lots of people that stop and take pictures and honk, and there’s a lot of people that are interested in watching it along K-Beach because it’s not something you see every day. In fact, you only see it once a year. It’s a fun event for the riders, and I hope it’s a fun event for the community that gets to see it. And it hopefully raises some awareness for what SEA is and does, and for our rodeo,” said Mike Ashwell, vice president of SEA.
There are five rodeo events held on the Kenai Peninsula during the spring and summer, three at the Soldotna Rodeo Grounds behind the ball fields by the Soldotna Sports Center, and two in Ninilchik, with the first rodeo set to begin at 2 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday in Soldotna. The kickoff has felt like it’s come sooner than usual this year, because winter has taken longer than usual to melt into spring.
“This spring has been such a problem for everybody, and for us, as well. We’re two to three weeks behind on arena projects,” Ashwell said, as workers hurry to hook up water and electricity, complete dirt work and get the riding arena in shape for practices and events. “There’s all sorts of things — getting the arena prepared and cleaned up and in the condition we want it to be so that everybody can get in there and be safe while riding and doing their events. Ordinarily right now we would just be prepping for rodeo, so we’re a little behind the eight ball because of the weather.”
Despite the last-minute hurry to finish spring chores, SEA is set to swing into its usual busy schedule — with bucking on Mondays, roping on Tuesdays, barrel racing and pole bending on Wednesdays, team penning on Thursdays, and jackpot events on Fridays before the weekend rodeos, as well as other organizations holding events, including a pony club and dog herding practice. Information and schedules can be found at www.soldotnaequestrianassociation.com.