Three days of nearly steady rain did little to dampen the spirits of some 6,500 fans who descended upon the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds at Ninilchik to celebrate Salmonfest 2016, three days of fish, love and music.
From Aug. 5 through Aug. 7, a steady stream of festival goers, in XtraTufs, sandals and bare feet, danced to the music of Indigo Girls, Trampled by Turtles, The Wood Brothers, The Brothers Comatose, Michal Menert, the Young Dubliners, Clinton Ferron, Dead Winter Carpenters and many more musicians on three stages.
Some of them relaxed in lawn chairs, in their rain gear, or with umbrellas overhead, or watched the bands from the adjacent beer garden.
They dined on wild Alaska seafood, hamburgers, pizza, shrimp gumbo, grilled cheese sandwiches, gourmet ice cream and more, learned more about the importance of protecting fish habitat in Alaska, and watched salmon on parade through the festival.
The festival, organized by Jim Stearns, of Homer and presented by the Kachemak Bay Conservation Society, got new support this year from Cook Inletkeeper, which organized environmental-minded entities to give festival goers plenty of information about the importance of healthy salmon habitat to Alaska’s economy and cultural soul.
Among the newcomers with salmon and salmon habitat information to share were Emily Stolarcyk of the Eyak Preservation Council, and Maria Finn, a former Homer resident now living in San Francisco, and author of “The Whole Fish,” a book about how to utilize the entire salmon.
Stalarcyk was there to ask people to get involved in writing letters to Alaska legislators and the U.S. Navy, urging the Navy to move the location of “Northern Edge” military training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, and for the state to conduct its own environmental assessment regarding how these military exercises affect salmon, a state managed species. The Eyak Preservation Council also asked letter writers to ask the Navy not to use live ordnance or sonar during these exercises because of potential adverse effects to subsistence and commercial fisheries, all critical to the economy of Gulf of Alaska communities.
“Stolacyk offered a brochure of information on the Gulf of Alaska Northern Edge military training, and a map of the area where the Navy plans to conduct another such military training in the summer of 2017 and asked everyone to find more information at www.eyakpreservationcouncil.org on how they can become more informed on the matter.
Finn offered two workshops on how to use the whole fish when harvesting salmon, plus recipe sheets from her book, “The Whole Fish,” inviting festival goers to make their own salmon sushi and handling out a recipe sheet that included a recipe on how to make salmon bone salt, a good source of calcium and Omega-3s, minerals and other nutrients. All it takes is bones from a whole salmon, 2-3 teaspoons of Kosher salt and a spice grinders, the instructions note.
The Kachemak Bay Conservation Society offered a sheet of comments on a number of issues, from use of helicopters in Kachemak Bay State Park, to Navy exercises in the Gulf of Alaska, and the proposed open pit Donlin Gold mine in Southwest Alaska, 10 miles north of the village of Crooked Creek on the Kuskokwim River.
KBCS opposes unlimited helicopter flights and landings in the state park, current Navy plans for the 2017 military training program, and plans for the Donlin mine, the latter because of potential for mercury contamination in the Kuskokwim River.
Other entities provided information on their concerns regarding the proposed Pebble Mine at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed, the proposed hydropower project in the Susitna River, and related resource development projects, all because of potential adverse impact on fish habitat.
There were fewer problems than ever overall in putting together the event, including the logistics of bringing in dozens of musicians in some 60 bands and solo performers, and crowds of happy festival goers roamed throughout, but a lot of people who bought tickets didn’t show up because of the weather, Stearns said.
Last year, when sunshine prevailed, some 7,000 people attended, he said.
“What’s so magical is the integration of the crowd, the staff and the artists,” he said.
“It’s like a throwback to the ’60s.
“Everyone got along. Everyone helped each other out,” he said. “The rain made it more communal. People were blown away by the spirit of the festival, how un-corporate it is.”