By Joseph Robertia
What do the Cookie Monster, a fire truck, a boom truck, a block of ice and the Kenai River have in common? This question was on the lips of many passing motorists when they saw all these things on the only bridge into Soldotna on March 27.
The answer comes courtesy of a joint effort by the Kenai and Soldotna Rotary clubs, as they are working together on a pilot project to establish a local version of the popular Nenana Ice Classic.
“Ours will be called the Kenai River Ice Classic,” said Rotary member Josselyn O’Connor, who, along with fellow Rotarian and project spearhead, Sarah Riley, have been working to bring the idea to fruition.
Started in 1906, the Nenana Ice Classic is a nonprofit fundraiser which sells tickets representing guesses for when the ice will go out on the Tanana River. A tripod is constructed on the frozen river and attached to a time clock that records the exact moment the tripod moves as a result of the river breaking up.
The inception for a local contest was — as with many great ideas — quite by accident. O’Conner said that, while reviewing other things, a Rotarian mentioned in passing that it was written into state statutes that Kenai or Soldotna Rotary could legally hold this type of “lottery.” This was followed up by a rhetorical question that became a literal reality.
“Someone asked, ‘Why aren’t we doing this?’ And that got the momentum going,” O’Conner said.
The brainstorming began, at the center of which was how to make the local contest unique.
“We went ’round and ’round about, ‘Should it be a tripod, or a buoy?’ And ultimately we went with an ice block. It seemed to be the best because it wouldn’t have to be returned,” O’Connor said.
As the idea grew, more agencies and organizations got involved, including the Kenai River Center, which gave input on the location; the Alaska Department of Transportation, which gave input on how to attach the block to the bridge; Metal Magic, which helped with the clock mechanism; and Spenard Builders Supply, which loaned a boom truck to lower the 2-ton ice block cut from a gravel pit off of Beaver Loop Road.
With so many emergency and industrial vehicles on the scene, O’Conner said that the dancing Cookie Monster, joined by Elmo and a lemon-headed mascot, were there to let passers by know that no disaster or crisis was happening.
“They were just there to keep the mood light,” she said. “We didn’t want anyone alarmed.”