Originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
Mary Youngman describes the Funny River Community Center as the area’s big great living room.
She’s the advertising chairwoman for the Funny River Community Association, which is hosting the Funny River Festival this weekend.
The festival is the only big event the community association organizes, with the proceeds going towards keeping the community center running.
“It’s kind of our only real big money maker,” Linda Vizenor, who is helping plan the festival, said. “It’s what supports us.”
The small building on Pioneer Access Road, about 13 miles down Funny River Road, sits near the community’s new playground, paved walking trail, basketball court, pickleball court and sledding hill. During the 2014 Funny River fire the community center quickly expanded into a disaster relief center for area residents affected.
The community center offers events for the public nearly every day of the week, including a cards night, a quilters meeting, craft groups, an exercise group and on the first and third Friday of every month a volunteer cooks soup for the center.
Youngman moved to Funny River from North Pole about seven years ago. She’s been attending the quilting club at the community center almost as long.
“(The community center) really serves as the gathering spot for the residents here and the community,” Youngman said. “The community center is really special for me.”
Youngman said she’s hoping the festival generates enough funds to keep the community center’s lights on and doors open.
“We’re working towards just keeping a place for the community, you know as we age we don’t just sit home and rock and read, or watch TV,” Youngman said. “We get involved with people.”
The Funny River community has been traditionally home to retirees and seasonal residents. The 2010 census shows that 50.2 percent of the population is 45 or older, with a median age of 45. However, both Youngman and Vizenor are seeing younger families move in.
“There’s a lot of young families building out here or have moved in here,” Vizenor said. “We can only tell by seeing how many kids use the playground we built.”
Vizenor moved from Eagle River to retire in Funny River 11 years ago. She worked on getting the playground installed near the community center, which some residents didn’t necessarily see a need for.
“I know when we first started looking to try to put the playground in there were a lot of people that said, ‘Well, there just isn’t anybody to use it,’” Vizenor said. “I had come from a parks background and I said, ‘If you build it, they’ll come.’ It’s been amazing to see. When we were playing bingo the other night, a group of teens came and played basketball all evening. I was so thrilled to see them.”
Vizenor and Youngman both said that the winter population is growing as well.
“The population drops in half in winter, but now there’s a lot of people moving in, and those of us that are used to having our roads to ourselves are going to have to learn to share,” Vizenor said.
To celebrate their growing community, Youngman said the Funny River Festival is a place where neighbors can catch up with each other while participating in games, tournaments, an auction and other events.
“It’s more of an old-fashioned get-together,” Vizenor said
The events begin Friday with a golf tournament at 10 a.m. and playing card tournaments for cribbage, nickels and pinochle at 6 p.m., with a split the pot raffle to end the night.
Saturday starts at noon with an opening ceremony, more games, arts and craft vendors and a cake walk. There will be a kid run for children 8 and under at 1 p.m. and a brisket dinner at 5:30 p.m., followed by bingo at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday starts at 9 a.m. with a pancake breakfast, a live auction at noon, with the festival’s main raffle to follow.
Main raffle prizes include a chest freezer filled with 175 pounds of meat, a Traeger grill, a chainsaw and more. There will daily snack bars and door prizes. Live music will be played throughout the weekend, as well.
The festival is Aug. 3, 4 and 5 at the Funny River Community Center, 35850 Pioneer Access Road.