The Fourth of July is around the corner and the Park District of Forest Park is gearing up for one of their most popular summer festivities with games and a full-day of fun, all leading up to a fireworks display some believe rivals even the over-the-top downtown fireworks at Navy Pier.
New to the celebration this year are additional vendors and fundraisers, including a rowdy crew from Forest Park Kiwanis who will be taking over beer concessions.
Also new to the line-up and joining the Panda Studio Dancers, who will be entertaining on the Main Stage, will be a band called The Associates, who play Motown, beginning their set at 6 p.m.
The celebration, however, is deeply rooted in tradition, with residents from across the Western suburbs coming in early to vie for the elusive “best place in the park to watch the fireworks” following a family-oriented day of picnic games”the same ones The Park has been hosting for many years”as well as good food.
“One year when we didn’t have Bingo, people were quite upset,” said Larry Piekarz, park district assistant director. “Bingo starts at 11 a.m. and that is always popular. The first band starts at 2:30. It is warm, but generally people come early to get spots for fireworks.”
This year, he added, Forest Park Youth Soccer will be selling pop as a fundraiser and Brown Cow will be dishing up ice cream. The Harlem Damen and Mannerchor will also be on hand, helping out and “selling the best funnel cakes”that is the longest line,” Piekarz said.
In addition, the Forest Park Eagles will be helping out by selling cotton candy and calling the Bingo game.
“It is a community event,” Piekarz said. “This year we are even going to be selling snow cones. We try to make it a family picnic atmosphere with the best fireworks at 9:15 p.m.”
Attendance in the past has been along the lines of 4,000 and Piekarz warned that the park will be wall-to-wall people by 9 p.m.
“Come about 6 on, it is packed. It is very crowded. It is nice to see all the people here,” he said.
Along with the old standbys”such as the longest drive with a marshmallow competition and the egg and sack races”will be a Moonwalk for the kids.
The mad rush, however, is for the fireworks, as “by 8 or so, most of those front spots are all taken.”
The fireworks are coordinated by Dave Novak, park district director, with New Horizons Pyrotechnics, who have traditionally done the show at Forest Park.
“We are going to have a show bigger and better than last year,” Novak said. “We have about a 20-minute show, and the people will walk away saying, ‘Oh my God.’ It starts out with a big opening volley and goes continuous and ends with a grand finale. I can’t remember the last time the people walked away from The Park disappointed.”
The show will be 100 percent electronically fired, as opposed to the way they were done in the old days when a person would run up and light the fuses.
“For the last six years, our show has been electronically fired, and it is a lot safer,” Novak said. “[Horizons] breaks it down where there is an opening, then a grand finale and multi-shot ground and shell displays.”
The displays take a long time to set up as well.
“It takes about 7-8 hours to set up a show that lasts 15 to 20 minutes”it is very labor-intense and painstaking, making sure all the wires are hooked the right way,” Novak explained.
The show is scheduled for 9:15, but Novak warned they will wait until dusk, regardless of when the neighboring communities set theirs off. He hopes the show will start between 9:15 and 9:30 p.m.
As for the best spot in the park?
“All the spots are really good. [People] not only set up at The Park but by the CTA, by the hill. People set up on the north side of the expressway, along Lehmer Street,” Novak said.
This year, however, due to safety concerns, “there will be no seating, as in past years, between fields two and three, between Lathrop Avenue and Ferdinand Street,” Novak said. “[Spectators] can be on Harrison Street as the street will be closed but [firefighters] aren’t going to let them on the parkway between those two fields.”
“Along Harrison Ave is an excellent place to sit,” Piekarz added. “I don’t really know of a bad seat. I sit by the veranda, and I have the trees to look through, but I am watching to see if anything comes down by the pool.”
Regardless, spectators should be in for a treat, Novak said.
“For 31 years I have only seen fireworks in Forest Park, but I have heard people say they go down to see the fireworks downtown and ours are as good if not better.”