By Thomas Vogel
Village officials said the July 4th festivities went well and there are plans to continue the Independence Day celebrations moving forward.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 people came to Forest Park's first July 4th fireworks show since 2012, a significant decrease from years past, Park District Executive Director Larry Pierkarz said in a July 6 phone call.
Previous Independence Day celebrations attracted crowds of around 10,000, Pierkarz noted. Following the 2012 show, village officials cancelled the festivities, citing crowd control and traffic issues. This time around, the park district kept its pre-show advertising to a minimum, hoping to keep the number of attendees to a manageable size and attract a mostly local crowd. The emphasis on keeping the event low-key seems to have worked.
"I thought it went well. It was great crowd," Piekarz said. "It was more of a family event; it wasn't overly crowded."
Forest Park Police Chief Thomas Aftanas said his department made no arrests and no fights were reported. Officers were stationed along nearby streets to help avoid traffic congestion.
"There were definitely less people than the last year we had it," Aftanas said. "The last time, you couldn't even walk down Harrison [Street]. It just wasn't like that this time. … Even on the park grounds itself, it just didn't seem as packed."
Aftanas said the crowd seemed to be mostly Forest Parkers, with some out-of-town family members and friends.
"I definitely recognized people," noted Aftanas, who was in attendance. "There definitely were at lot of familiar faces. Lots of families, lots of little kids."
Pierkarz said he has not heard one complaint from residents and some of his staff spent the morning of July 5 cleaning up nearby streets.
He said they plan to do the show again next year.
The park district spent around $21,000 on the show, including roughly $6,500 from residents who donated as part of a fundraising effort sent to Forest Parkers along with a vehicle sticker renewal mailer.
Reaction on social media was generally positive, too, with residents posting pictures and thanking the event's organizers.
"Everyone in the park district outdid themselves. What a great way to unite our town and community!" Forest Parker Claudia Medina wrote on Facebook. "The fireworks were extraordinary!"
"I am really proud that we could so flawlessly bring back our fireworks last night. Congratulations to our park district, police, Mayor Calderone and everyone else," Forest Park business owner Marty Sorice Sr. wrote. "A big shout-out to all the Forest Parkers who urged the village to bring the fireworks back. Your voice was heard."
"It was a lot of neighbors and their families. You could watch them walking down the street with their lawn chairs," Pierkarz said. "It reminded me of the old days."