CLINTON — A decades old celebration of the birth of the nation has found a new home.
For 26 years, the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration had been held at Fort Halifax on the Kennebec River. This year, it will be held in Clinton at the fairgrounds off Route 100. The fairgrounds are the site of the annual Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair, and the Lions Club had to approve the July Fourth events.
Kevin Douglass, vice chairman of what was known as the Winslow Family 4th of July Committee, said the two-day festival will be scaled back from past years with a bigger focus on community.
The new event, Douglass said, will be known as the Central Maine 4th of July: the Great American Celebration.
“I think it’s the right move for the 4th of July here in central Maine,” Douglass said.
The multi-day event has drawn tens of thousands of people and featured a parade through town, live music, contests and fireworks at Fort Halifax Park. But after 26 years of the multi-day event, tension has grown between Winslow and the organizers, a nonprofit group with a board of directors that put on the event with volunteers.
Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener recently confirmed there will be no Fourth of July events in the town whatsoever this year. The event organizers still owe Winslow thousands of dollars. Douglass said the organization is still working to raise funds to pay off their debt to Winslow, but he was quick to point out the celebration needs to happen in order to be able to pay the debt.
“If the event does not happen, no funds come in,” he said.
Douglass said there will still be fireworks and live music at the celebration with more events for children on July 3. He said more emphasis will be placed on local bands with fewer bands than past years, and local nonprofit organizations will be encouraged to participate. He said nonprofit organizations will be allowed to raise funds at the event free of charge, as long as they agree to help set up before and clean up after the celebration. He said applications for nonprofits are available online.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for a nonprofit,” he said.
The agreement with the Clinton Lions Club is year-to-year, which Douglass said was understandable since this is a new partnership.
“I think people will be impressed,” he said. “I think it will have that hometown celebration feel.”
The Winslow celebration, which has attracted 70,000 people to Fort Halifax Park — nearly 10 times the population of the town — also had been viewed as too large for the venue. The crowd at Fort Halifax spills out onto the main road, which is U.S. Route 201. This has created traffic congestion when the fireworks go off. Rising costs for local police coverage is one of the major reasons cited by town officials and organizers for the fallout between Winslow and the celebration committee.
Douglass said the event in Clinton will be much smaller, and that the new venue is ideal in terms of location and the amount of parking available. The parking lot for the fairgrounds can accommodate about 4,000 cars.
“There will be more parking than we’ve ever had,” he said. “It should be a much better location as far as space goes and accessibility for people to experience the 4th of July this year.”
The event moved to Winslow after a disastrous alcohol-fueled celebration at Head of Falls in Waterville in 1990. A couple hundred intoxicated people jumped up and down on the Two Cent Bridge until part of it broke, and four police officers were injured in confrontations.
Before the celebration organizers settled with Clinton, it wasn’t a sure bet the event would actually happen. The organizers got off to a rocky start with the Lions Club when they failed to show up at a meeting, which was somewhat familiar behavior, as the organizers also missed meetings in Fairfield when they were eying that town as a possible location. The Fairfield Town Council ultimately decided not to pursue the kind of celebration the organizers had proposed.
With a new venue set, Douglass said things look bright for the celebration.
“I think we’re moving along positively to a good solution to all situations here, and I think there’s a very bright future here,” he said.
Colin Ellis — 861-9253