Forest Park was the place to be on the Fourth of July. That’s according to village officials, the park district and folks who attended a daylong shindig at the Park District of Forest Park.
The park’s Independence Day soiree featured musical and theatrical performances; carnival games; food and beverages; and, according to Larry Piekarz, the park district executive director, “the best fireworks” around. The village also likely saw thousands of people who were out and about town for the holiday, something that could have resulted in a spike in criminal activity; but, based on several accounts, was hardly the case.
No official tally or estimate of the number of people at the park was kept, but Piekarz guessed a few thousand showed up, a significant increase from years past.
The number who gathered in town was probably in the thousands, and Police Chief Jim Ryan said the department was concerned about safety going into the holiday. Because of this, security was tight near the park – Harrison Street was cordoned off between Desplaines Avenue and Circle Avenue – and around town, and any misbehavior that was spotted was immediately addressed, said Ryan. He added that almost all of the infractions were minor incidents.
In total, nine arrests were made, Ryan said. Eight were for local ordinance violations and one was a misdemeanor for battery. Only one of the arrestees was a resident of Forest Park, though.
“We made sure that the residents had a safe and peaceful, and enjoyable time,” said Ryan, adding “I believe that the people that were in the park were families that were there to watch the fireworks.”
Tanzla Rodriguez, of Forest Park, watched the fireworks at the park with her husband and two children; she marveled at the event and the size of the crowd, and lauded the police department for keeping things in check.
“It was a really, really huge crowd,” said Rodriguez, noting that it afforded her a great “opportunity to get out there with [my] family.”
“There wasn’t any chaos or fighting or anything,” she said. “The policemen were very visible and they were keeping things in control.”
Rodriguez, who camped out near Desplaines Avenue, also said that her 11-year-old son was “scattered here and there” throughout the day, and didn’t inform her of any incidents.
She did say, though, that the fireworks could have been better.
“It didn’t woo me,” she said.
But for others, the fireworks were all the rage.
“Every year they outdo themselves,” said Patty Marino, a longtime Forest Parker, who has taken her family to the event for nearly 15 years. “You don’t think they can, but they do.”
“People loved the fireworks,” Piekarz said. “I can’t go anywhere without people saying that.”
Marino also said that her family always makes a day out of the park’s Fourth of July celebration, and this year they were camped out from 8 a.m. until closing time.
“It’s a day that my family [always] looks forward to,” she said.
She listed some of her family’s favorite activities: the kids’ egg-toss, the marshmallow drive (a long-distance competition involving golf clubs), bingo, and a choreographed dance routine.
“I grew up on a block where there was a block party every year,” said Marino, recalling previous Independence Day celebrations near her childhood home on the 800 block of S. Kenilworth Avenue in Oak Park.
“It has definitely replaced it for us sentimentally,” she added.
Jill Wagner, another Forest Parker who attended the event with her family, albeit only for the fireworks, joked, “The only thing that was missing was a rousing rendition of ‘God Bless America.’ “