Big changes are in the works for Columbia County’s 20th Annual Fourth of July celebration, and if you don’t pay attention, you might miss it altogether. Not only will this year’s event be bigger and last longer, it’s going to be at a different location.
After 19 years of being at Patriots Park, the celebration is moving to Evans Towne Center Park.
“We knew we liked it at Patriots Park, but it seemed like Evans Towne Center Park is such a more suitable location just because the layout of the park lends itself really well to outdoor festivals,” says Virginia Atkins, a community events specialist for Columbia County. “And we have the huge stage right there.”
That huge stage, known along with the spectator area as the Lady Antebellum Pavilion, is one of the advantages festivalgoers will probably notice first. As the centerpiece of the park, its entertainment will serve to knit together the wide range of events slated for the free celebration, which has tacked on a couple of hours from previous years, starting at 2 p.m. and ending after the fireworks sometime around 9:30.
At 4 p.m., festivalgoers will see a patriotic performance put on by the Abilene Baptist Church. At 6:30 the Fort Gordon Army Signal Corps Band will perform and, at 8 p.m., Hack Bartley & Shuffle will take the stage, playing a mix of classic rock and beach hits.
A second stage, under the gazebo by the children’s playground, will feature the Livingroom Legends at 2 p.m. and the Jerusalem Sounds Brass Band at 5 p.m.
Officials have expressed confidence that the $320,000 expansion of the playground, which basically doubles the size of the play area, will be open in time for the festival.
Along with the music, some 40 food and craft vendors will be on hand, and there will be plenty of other offerings, including hot air balloon rides, carnival rides, a rock wall, a rolling video game unit and two inflatable water rides near the kid’s playground that should help everyone beat the heat.
For those who prefer their fun a little more traditional, the Family Field Day Games will allow people to participate in old-time games like potato sack races.
The day will be topped off around 9:15 with the start of the fireworks, which Atkins says will be the largest in the event’s 20-year history.
As for parking, which has been one of the major pitfalls of having the event at Patriot’s Park, where the traffic flow clogs to a halt because of limited access to and from the parking area, Atkins says moving to Evans Towne Center Park will be a benefit.
“There should be plenty of parking around the park,” she says. “And if it’s an issue this year, it’s something we can look at for next year.”
With the large grass field across from the park and the spaces provided by the library, Government Center and Justice Center, officials feel there will be an adequate number of spots for the crowd, which they expect to be larger because of Evans Towne Center Park’s central location.
“I really do think it will be a better parking situation than in past years, because you’ll be walking a shorter distance from wherever you park,” Atkins says.
She admits that old habits die hard, and trying to change 19 years’ worth of tradition won’t be easy, which is why the county will set up a portable variable-message sign at Patriots Park about a week before the event and keep it there through the Fourth of July. Reminders will also go out in the water bill insert and will be flashed across the electronic sign in front of Evans Towne Center Park.
The county celebration is one of several popular events utilizing the park.
“I don’t know if it was a long-term thing, but after we did a lot of festivals at Evans Towne Center Park, we knew that it would lend itself really well to the Fourth of July,” Atkins says.