Thousands of people come to the annual July 3rd celebration at Lake Benson Park, but few know how many people and how much effort it takes to make the event seem so easy.
After the event, Jill McAllister, the Town of Garner’s events and box office coordinator, makes herself set aside for a few days the three-inch binder that is filled with logistical plans for Garner’s most prominent event.
“I try to take a break,” McAllister said at her work station at the Garner Performing Arts Center. “I need to get away from it for a little while.”
But starting this week, McAllister will pull out the big binder and begin planning for an event that she hopes will attract 18,000 or more people to the outdoor celebration. That’s a big number for a community of about 24,000.
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And in the back of her mind, she will harbor the thought that there are some things that can’t be covered despite all of her planning. The last few years have been plagued by bad weather forcing a postponement, an altered schedule and, this year, a smaller crowd than usual.
“It is an outdoor event,” McAllister said. “It is so big that you really can’t postpone it and have it exactly like it was planned. The biggest thing is to keep everyone safe. That’s always the biggest concern.”
This year’s event went off without a major hitch although the weather was iffy all day. Though there were possibilities of severe weather,they never developed.
Nevertheless, the threat of bad weather was a big factor in the event drawing an estimated crowd of about 8,500, far below some previous years.
But the entertainment went on as scheduled with an opening band, the North Carolina Symphony, games for children, fireworks and food in a fun, family-focused event. McAllister thinks about families at every step of the planning.
Location, location, location
“We take surveys and by far the biggest thing people like about the July 3rd celebration is that it is family-friendly and it is in our community,” McAllister said.
“Of all the elements in the event – the opening band, the symphony, everything – far and away the thing people like about it best is having an event for the whole family and having it here. Lake Benson Park is one of the best parks that you will find.”
This year the town added walking tours of the Garner Veterans’ Memorial and the memorial is a great foreground for photographs of the fireworks.
But when the fireworks are over, the work is just starting for Kip McClary, the Garner Public Works Operations supervisor and about 220 town employees and volunteers.
They start taking down, moving out and cleaning up during the event, but they hit high gear as the fireworks end.
They report to the park at 7 a.m., on July 3 to complete the final assembly. They will have a short midday break, but their day is not over until the park is returned to its most picturesque form. That’s usually around 2 a.m..
Visit the park at 7 a.m., on July 4 and you’d never know thousands of people had their picnics there the night before.
This year there were noticeable tracks from the thousands of cars because of the rainy weather, but a quick canvass of the park turned up five plastic water bottles, one white plastic bag and a few red plastic cups on the ground.
All the temporary lighting was secured. The speakers stored. The mobile police headquarters, where staff constantly monitors the weather conditions during the event, was gone.
All of the smaller tents were removed although the symphony bandshell, which is rented from a Rocky Mount company, still was overseeing the park.
“A small army”
It looked as if a small army had been there and vanished.
That’s the goal, McClary said.
“The park needs to be ready for its purpose the next day,” McClary said.
Eight employees walk the park during the event to keep the garbage cans from overfilling. Minutes after the crowd leaves, the clean up crew is picking up trash and two garbage compacting trucks are getting their first tastes of July 3rd trash.
The people who assemble take down. People whose work paths rarely cross work together.
“There is a get sense of camaraderie,” McClary said. “It takes on a life of its own.”
There is a final assembly of all the workers and they do a mental checklist to be sure everything has been done. No one leaves until the clean up is finished.
“At that point, I think we all give a sigh of relief,” McClary said. “We’ve done this event as well as we could. We’ve returned the park to its natural state. We can go home now.”