FAIRBANKS, Alaska - Pioneer Park, a Fairbanks landmark and Alaska's only historic theme park, rolled out the red carpet for approximately 5,000 military personnel and their families from Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base during a Military Appreciation Day event Saturday.

From free rides on the carousel and park train to free food, free admission to the museums, face painting, miniature golf rounds, live entertainment, and much more, park officials and community agencies pulled out all the stops to ensure military families had an amazing experience, said Jason Avery, Pioneer Park manager.

"It was a really great event," Avery said. "It was a great day at the park."

Organizers' efforts were noticed and appreciated by Soldiers and family members like LaDonna Olson, wife of Chaplain (Capt.) Mark Olson, 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. "This was such a nice treat," she said. "It's really great; wonderful. We appreciate everything they are doing for us."

This year's Military Appreciation Day marked the fifth year the park has celebrated the military community in this way. The event originally began as a welcome home event for deployed Soldiers in 2006 and has evolved into a general appreciation event for all military personnel in the Fairbanks area.

Attendance at this year's event increased by 2,000 people over last year and organizers were very pleased with the turnout, Avery said. Military Appreciation Day also corresponded with the annual Veterans' Stand Down event at the park offering assistance and support to veterans in the area.

"It seemed like everyone had a great day. The weather was beautiful. Vendors had lines out their doors all day. We gave out a lot of free train rides and carousel (rides) and I think we went through about 2,400 hot dogs," he said.

Pfc. Brandon Blevins, 6th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, enjoyed the park's hospitality and generosity as he tried his hand at miniature golf with a friend. "It's a great event," he said. "We're having a good time."

Staff Sgt. Ryan Waldrop, 3-21st, and his family attended the event and said that it was just another example of the unique way the Fairbanks community supports Soldiers and families.

"You just don't see this kind of support everywhere," he said. "Especially seeing things through my wife's eyes really helps me to see all that the community offers for us."

The concepts of community appreciation and support were exactly what the event was about, Avery said.

"Pioneer Park is a community park and it's great to be able to show our appreciation to the military with such a great setting as the park here and just let folks at Fort Wainwright and Eielson (AFB) know how much the community appreciates them," he said.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16