Planning for the 4th started long before the park opened

mhankerson@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2014 

KNIGHTDALEIt only lasted 15 minutes, but it was months in the making.

The planning for Knightdale’s inaugural Fourth of July celebration at Knightdale Station Park – which included the town’s first 15-minute fireworks show – started before the town ever allowed residents to visit the recently constructed park.

“We always knew that this (event) was going to happen,” Megan Thornton, Knightdale’s recreation program coordinator, said the week before the event. Major aspects of the event, like booking The Embers as live entertainment and planning a fireworks display, were efforts started when most residents were still shoveling their snow from their driveways.

The Sandiford family, which hails from Durham, was also gearing up for the Fourth of July event early. The family’s social circle has slowly expanded across the Triangle into the area around Knightdale the family has attended community events like parades for about four years.

Candise Sandiford said the family didn’t mind the trip from Durham because they liked Knightdale’s environment. And they were expecting big things from the first fireworks display.

“I’m expecting a boom,” Sandiford said.

Getting ready for fireworks

The Embers, a popular beach music band, happened to have a member who doubled as a booking agent. Thornton had worked with him on another event and was able to secure the live band early.

It’s a new experience for the whole town, so when it came to the hallmark of Fourth of July celebrations, Knightdale’s Parks and Recreation Department had a bit to learn.

Parks and Recreaction Director Tina Cheek said there was a “bit of a learning curve,” when it came to organizing the fireworks display.

The process included scoping out the site at Knightdale Station Park to determine if fireworks would be safe there. As it turns out, it is one of the only areas in the town that allow for a safe fireworks show that residents can also easily see.

“That’s one of the reasons we haven’t been able to do a big Fourth of July in the past,” Cheek said. “We haven’t had a big area where people could see them. (We) could really do any kind of show ... with the space at the park.”

After determinng there was enough space for debris to land, fireworks to launch and residents to sit and watch, Cheek, fireworks companies, Fire Chief Tim Guffey and Wake County fire officials went through a testing process to see how the fireworks would look in the reserved space.

And after that, it was up to Cheek and Thornton to decide on what the fireworks display would actually look like.

Cheek said displays can be as long or short, expensive or less costly. She said Knightdale was looking for a sweet spot: just the right amount of time, with the right number of fireworks, for the right price.

They settled on a 15-minute display, with more than 500-fireworks, that fit right in their budget of between $8,000 and $10,000.

“We didn’t want breaks or gaps during the show (so we) put together a solid 15-minute show,” Thornton said. “Not too long and not too short.”

Considering small details

The fireworks display required more than just logistical planning, though.

Cheek said she found that fireworks often have a negative affect on animals, especially dogs, who can hear 50 percent more than humans.

For that reason, the town decided to not allow pets at the normally pet-friendly park. Cheek said she wanted to make sure all pets were secure and weren’t frightened into running away from their owners.

All the crash-course learning Cheek and Thornton have experienced over the past few months should come in handy for future Fourth of July celebrations, but Cheek said next year, they’ll be reorganizing the physical location of the event.

“(Next year, we’ll have to learn about) just the site itself and learning what our limits are there,” she said.

By next year, Phase II of the park, which includes an amphitheater, is expected to be complete. At that point, Cheek said they’ll be able to move entertainment, like The Embers, to a bigger stage and provide different areas for parking.

But this year, the focus was on setting the foundation for an event that will hopefully become something residents look forward to, Cheek said before the event.

“We want people to come back,” she said. “It’s very important to the town to make this a good family event.”

Donnie Solomon attended the event with his wife, Allyson and son Chase. Donnie Solomon has lived in Knightdale for about three years, but Allyson just moved from Phoenix, Ariz. for a few months.

In past years, the Solomon family would hang out at home, but he decided it would be better to brave the town’s first Fourth of July event even though he was expecting a crowd.

“It’s good to be in the spirit ... and gives the family something to do,” he said.

And Allyson Solomon, who in the past had no choice but to spend her time at large celebrations in Phoenix, said she was impressed by the event.

“It’s very community-oriented,” she said. “It’s like being in your own backyard.”

One of many

Knightdale’s celebration was one of several in eastern Wake County. In Wendell, the celebration focused on veterans, including 97-year-old Arlee Mitchell, who is believed to be the oldest living veteran in Wendell. She was part of the town’s annual Fourth of July parade which, for the first time, featured motorized vehicles in addition to the bikes, trikes and wagons that marked previous children’s parades.

The celebration spilled over into the J. Ashley Wall Towne Square following the parade, where visitors were treated to a large display of veterans’ photographs, housed in the Rotary Gazebo. On stage music and more honors came for the veterans who filled most of two sets of bleachers. The park was filled with a crowd as big as any Harvest Festival. The event, sponsored by the Wendell Historical Society, drew praise from Wendell leaders.

“We need more events like this downtown,” said town commissioner Sam Laughery.

Later on Friday night, baseball fans were treated to the area’s largest fireworks display at Five County Stadium following the Carolina Mudcats’ 7-6, 10-inning win over the Salem Hillcats.

 

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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