Local Independence Day festivities have been given an overhaul this year in the western suburbs as local park districts and villages confront financial constraints and crowd control.
Here’s what’s happening in Forest Park, Oak Park, Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside.
The Forest Park fireworks were canceled last fall by the Park District of Forest Park, as the village sought to avoid overwhelming crowds and the problems they bring.
Instead, the village will host Independence Day festivities on Wednesday, July 3, at The Park. The event will feature a food court, open at 5 p.m., with music until 10:30 p.m.
As in years past, volunteers will be serving hot dogs, hamburgers and sausages. Outside vendors will offer funnel cakes and cotton candy for purchase. From 5-8 p.m., there will be DJ entertainment. From 8 until the event ends at 10:30, the band Final Say will perform.
“We hope it draws a large crowd; we want to see the park full of Forest Park families,” said Park District Recreation Supervisor Rachell Entler.
This is a smaller event than in previous years, and that’s intentional. In 2012, Forest Park police got assistance from 40 additional officers from neighboring municipalities to help with security at the fireworks display.
“The fireworks we used to present brought out a lot of people from outside. That meant we needed a larger police presence,” Entler said. “We had people driving into town or coming on public transportation to see them.
“The idea now is we want to see local families spending the day at The Park — we are seeking more of a community feel by scaling back the events.”
Diversity in Oak Park will be the focus when the annual July 4th parade steps off at 10 a.m. from Longfellow Park, Ridgeland Avenue at Adams. The parade moves north on Ridgeland to Augusta, turns east, and ends near Whittier Elementary School at Harvey Avenue. Among the participants scheduled to march are social and special interest groups, community groups, athletic teams, politicians, businesses, service organizations, children’s groups, animal lovers with their pets, and musical groups.
Oak Park will hold its traditional fireworks display, hosted by the Great American Light Show Association (GALA), the local nonprofit group organized to present the annual Independence Day celebration in Oak Park. GALA includes representatives from the Park District of Oak Park, Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest, Oak Park and River Forest High School, the Oak Park Police Department and the Oak Park Fire Department.
As it has for the past 14 years, Community Bank of Oak Park-River Forest sponsors the show, and Wednesday Journal sponsors the grand finale.
Fireworks begin at dusk in the football stadium of Oak Park and River Forest High School, near East Avenue and Lake Street. In the event of unfavorable weather, the show will be held Friday, July 5.
An estimated 30,000 people watched the Oak Park fireworks last year, Deputy Police Chief Tony Ambrose said. “We’re not really doing anything different this year. As always, we will be working with a full contingent of police officers — we give no time off during this holiday.”
Though it is intended as an event for Oak Park families and their guests, Ambrose said, “We do know we attract people from surrounding municipalities, especially since other towns stopped having fireworks displays.” But their approach remains unchanged: “We just try to keep people moving in and out in an orderly fashion,” said Ambrose.
Fireworks can be observed from the stands within OPRF stadium or from the nearby athletic fields where families can “camp” and picnic together.
The village of Riverside will hold events both July 3 and 4. The evening of July 3, new Village President Ben Sells leads the opening ceremony in Guthrie Park, across from the train depot, with the official raising of the flag, the singing of the National Anthem, and then a concert by the band The Brat Pack, featuring hits from the ’80s and more.
July 4 starts early in Riverside, with the 35th annual running of the Independence 5K, starting at the historic water tower. You can register the day of the race, which begins at 7:30 a.m.
The Riverside parade, featuring bands, fire trucks, clowns, local bigwigs and (often) lots of candy tossing, steps off from Big Ball Park in the center of town at 8:45 a.m. and wends its way to Guthrie Park, where booths for food and activities will be open until 1 p.m. The all-ages event features pony rides, an 11 a.m. “Toddler Trot,” balloon-twisting and a classic car show.
No fireworks here either, just a parade and what Brookfield Special Events Coordinator Jessica Rovner calls “a big village picnic” in Kiwanis Park immediately afterward. The Brookfield parade steps off from Grand and Cleveland at 10 a.m., heads right down Grand to Brookfield Avenue and ends at village hall. Next to the hall is Kiwanis Park, where parade judges will hand out awards to selected parade participants.
The village picnic in Kiwanis Park features music all day, starting at 12:30 p.m. with the band the Everly Brothers. Then between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m., Deja Ju performs.
At 5 p.m., Brookfield residents can hear the first and second place winners of the annual Battle of the Bands held in May, with performances by Farsighted and Something’s Not Right.
The evening of July 3 in Veterans Park, along 26th Street just south of North Riverside Mall, local sports fans are invited to attend a co-ed softball tournament.
On the Fourth of July, the North Riverside parade steps off at 10 a.m., starting at the intersection of 24th and 14th streets. It winds through town, ending at Veterans Park, the site of all remaining patriotic activities for the day.
The flag-raising ceremony, led by Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., will be attended by the village trustees. Ball-playing continues at 11:30 a.m. when both the men’s softball tournament and the Little League tournament begin; there will also be a Home Run Derby.
Little League will prepare hot dogs, brats and burgers; beer and soft drinks will be available. Families can enjoy a picnic-style array of games, a dunk tank and a couple of inflatable moonwalks. The festivities end around 3 p.m.