Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration organizers are bringing a top country music star and a new parade float competition to the celebration this year, but worry about lagging contributions and a struggle to find volunteers to pitch in for the event, which annually draws tens of thousands of people.

“Our donations were way down than they’ve been in past years and we’re not sure why we’re looking at lower numbers,” said Kevin Douglass, chairman of the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration Committee. “We’re in a race to get donations in.”

Douglass has been on the committee for the event for almost a decade, taking over as chairman in 2012 after longtime chairman Ron LeClair retired in 2010. In his second year organizing the event, Douglass has run into fundraising and volunteer walls. Only about $22,000 of the $50,000 Douglass said it cost to run the three-day event has been raised, and as of Friday, only six volunteers had signed up online.

“Donations are way down than we’ve had in past years and we don’t have many volunteers coming in,” he said. “I’m not quite sure why we’re looking at lower numbers. We’re in a race to get donations in.”

Last year, only four volunteers had signed up by late May to help for the event, which needs about 100 volunteers to run successfully. After a late influx of signups, last year’s event gathered about 70 volunteers.

The event has booked country music star John Michael Montgomery, known for 1990s hits “I Love the Way You Love Me” and “Be My Baby Tonight” to play at Fort Halifax Park Thursday, July 3.

“It’s going to be nice to get there and spend a little time in the state and enjoy the things I don’t get to see here in Kentucky,” Montgomery said. “I love that part of the country.”

Despite the prominent muscial act and yearly tradition — it’s the 24th year it’s been held — the organizers are still less than half way to the roughly $50,000 it will take to run the three-day event, which includes a parade.

“As the committee focuses on fundraising and preparing for a large concert, new Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary has his own worries, which include making sure his small staff manages the large crowd while working stretched hours while also experiencing the magnitude of the event — about 50,000 people are expected to attend the three-day event — for the first time.

“When I first got here I was brought up to speed about it by Lt. Josh Veilleux and I’m very excited that he and my staff have been through this enough times,” O’Leary said. “This is a big event. There are two nights of high priority with a high volume of people in the area.”

O’Leary was mostly joking when he said he wished he started the job on July 5. Yet, despite most of his staff’s experience covering the event, his concerns run the gamut of enforcing the law, protecting the thousands of attendees and keeping his staff safe.

“We’re going to be completely taxed,” O’Leary said, adding that the police staff is down one full-time officer and several reserves. “No one has time off around the Fourth of July. Each officer will be working anywhere from 15 to 18 hours and there will be no shift relief.”

O’Leary is working with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office because of the number of people expected. The department is lending four patrol deputies to Winslow July 3 and 4, as well as four transportation deputies, so transfer of any arrestees to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta won’t take away from the enforcement in Winslow.

“Unfortunately, with today’s times, we need to be cognizant of several things, including making sure children are safe and making sure there are no alcohol or drugs,” O’Leary said. “We also have concerns, when you have this large of a group of people and the impact the Boston bombings had, you have to keep that in mind.”

There is no ban on bags or coolers, but O’Leary still urges people to not bring them to Fort Halifax. Every backpack, bag or cooler brought to the park will be searched upon entry and tagged “to let everyone know it’s safe.”

‘DOESN’T GET BETTER THAN FREE’

The concert featuring Montgomery on Thursday, July 3, at Fort Halifax Park will be free. Douglass said it cost about $20,000 to bring a free Montgomery concert to the event and took about a year to book the gig.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize the cost of entertainment,” Douglass said, adding that even established cover bands can cost near $10,000. “We worked with John Michael Montgomery on a price we could afford.”

Both Douglass and Montgomery are hoping that the combination of his music, the free admission and family atmosphere brings a large audience.

“I’m hoping for a huge crowd,” Montgomery said. “It doesn’t get much better than free.”

Jesse Scardina — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @jessescardina


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