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Actor Erik Estrada led a band of 76 motorcycle riders on Saturday, July 14 from Anchorage to Alyeska and back to Chugiak in the “Riding to End Childhood Hunger” event to support Eagle River-based non-profit organization Dare to Care. The motorcycle riders raised $7,000 for the school lunch program, which benefits students in the Matanuska-Susitna and Anchorage School Districts.

Thousands of people went on safari over the weekend without having to leave Eagle River.

“The festival’s gone great,” said Bear Paw Festival director Merry Braham on Sunday, July 15, as this year’s jungle-themed festival began to wind down. “We’ve had tons of crowds.”

Eagle River wants to be the kind of place where physical and mental challenges shouldn’t keep kids from having fun.

That was the message organizers of the new all-inclusive playground project wanted to convey during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the one-of-a-kind facility in Town Square Park.

“This community stepped up and made a statement, and that statement should be clear,” said Focus Inc. executive director Seth Kelley.

Wendy Martin thought a vacation in Hawaii would prevent her from competing in this year’s Bear Paw Pageant.

Good thing she returned just in time.

Just four days after entering the pageant, Martin was crowned Miss Bear Paw 2012 on Thursday, July 12 at Chugiak High’s Steve Primis Auditorium.

“It feels absolutely fantastic,” said Martin, who’s entering her senior year at Chugiak. “It’s so rewarding.”

Seeking a low calorie frozen treat?

The Ice Cream Social has you covered.

The new Eagle River business located at 11823 Old Glenn Highway offers non-fat, gluten-free, lactose-free ice cream as well as Dole pineapple sorbet.

The menu isn’t limited to desserts.

The entire Pizza Man menu is also available thanks to a contract with the popular local pizza place.

The Ice Cream Social also offers an 850-square-foot “playland” complete with tents, books, blocks and other toys for children.

A 24-year-old paratrooper assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division was killed on July 14 when his patrol was attacked by a rocket propelled grenade and small arms fire in the Khost Province of Afghanistan.

Chugiak’s Lauren Fritz, Eagle River’s Alexander Babos and Eagle River’s Keegan Crow were the top local finishers in this year’s Mount Marathon Race on July 4 in Seward.

Fritz, 24, finished second only to Anchorage’s Holly Brooks in the women’s race, clocking a time of 54 minutes, 48 seconds up and down the 3,000-foot mountain in Seward.

Babos, 19, was 37th among men’s finishers, crossing the finish line in 53:49. Anchorage’s Matt Novakovich won the race in 44:07.

Crow’s time of 35:01 was good enough for 10th place in the junior race.

Cheryll Heinze, a former Alaska state legislator who served as Matanuska Electric Association's Director of Human Resources and Public Affairs, was killed in a plane accident Tuesday, July 10, in Homer, according to Alaska State Troopers and MEA.

Winning $1,064,121.24 in Las Vegas was a dream come true for Linda Fleury — literally.

Prior to her trip, Fleury’s husband, Al, had a dream that she hit the jackpot of a progressive slot machine.

Fleury said she typically plays single slots with five-figure payouts because the odds are much better.

But, at her husband’s request, Fleury visited the linked slot machines at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino every other day.

“The only reason I played it was because my husband told me to,” she said. “If he didn’t tell me that, I wouldn’t play it.”

When John Hillyer first saw reports of the devastating 2011 Japan tsunami, the Eagle River jet pilot’s first reaction was to pack his bags and head home.

“As soon as this hit it was so hard to watch,” said Hillyer.

At the time, Hillyer — a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve who flies full time for FedEx — was commanding the reserve’s F-22 unit, a position that made it difficult for him to leave Alaska for an extended period of time.

“I was never called,” he said.