WINSLOW — For a generation, the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration has been a central Maine fixture, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to Fort Halifax Park on the banks of the Kennebec River.

But after 25 years, festival organizers say they are getting the message from town officials that it is time to find a new venue.

“It think the bottom line is they are just tired,” said Kevin Douglass, of Fairfield, chairman of the volunteer committee of Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration, the nonprofit group that organizes the event.

“It’s been 25 years. I imagine it’s worn thin with some of the town officials.”

Until Tuesday afternoon, Douglass’ intention was to propose moving the festival to Fairfield, and he had met several times with Town Manager Josh Reny. The town council was scheduled to discuss the idea at the June 10 town council meeting, according to the agenda sent out last Friday.

But on Tuesday afternoon, the item was pulled off the agenda, after Reny got a call from Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener, who told him that the plan had not been voted on by the non-profit’s board of directors.


“I just mentioned to Josh that Kevin Douglass hasn’t actually had a discussion with the executive committee,” Heavener said Tuesday night.

Winslow 4th of July Celebration has a volunteer committee that performs operations of the event, but, like all nonprofit groups, answers to a board of directors.

After getting the news, Reny put discussion of moving the festival on ice.

“We do not want to interject ourselves in a situation where it would look like we are stealing an event from another town,” Reny said on Tuesday evening.

“I’m a little bit embarrassed,” Reny added. “In hindsight, I should have done my due diligence.”

Gerald Saint Amand, who is the president of the group’s board of directors and the chairman of the Winslow Town Council said Tuesday that he was aware that Douglass was putting out feelers for a possible move, but the board had not voted on a proposal.


“It’s been mentioned in past years that maybe we should switch towns,” Saint Amand said, noting that the event was held in Waterville before it moved to Winslow.

“I think he wanted to get a feel for it,” he added.

The board and volunteer committee intends to meet this week to discuss the proposal further, Saint Amand said.

Douglass said Tuesday night that he is frustrated with how the issue has unfolded. Fairfield officials seemed receptive and excited to host the event, and he was trying to work out a solution that would make everyone happy, but following Heavener’s phone call to Reny, the plan is now on hold. A possible change of venue may still be in the cards, he said.

“It is not off the table, we need to sit down and figure out what is best for this event, whether it is in Winslow or somewhere else,” Douglass said. “We need to make sure the community works in a way that makes everyone happy so no one feels abused or overextended or overworked,” he added.

Winslow town officials admit that hosting the event, especially providing police and fire protection for public safety, can be exhausting. But Town Manager Michael Heavener said he doesn’t know where Douglass got the impression that the festival isn’t wanted in Winslow.


“The town has not had a conversation with them about that,” Heavener said.

The town always has supported the festival, Heavener said on Monday. He got in touch with organizers earlier this year to assure them that construction on U.S. Route 201 would not impede on the events.

“The message I have given them from the town is that we support them,” Heavener said.

About 70,000 people, almost 10 times Winslow’s population, attend the free multi-day event. It features live rock and country music, a massive parade and one of the largest fireworks displays in the state. The event is a major attraction for central Maine and draws in people from across the state, causing traffic headaches and exhausting the town’s small emergency services departments.

While the event pays $4,000 to $7,000 for local police coverage, “it does stretch our resources” and “it gets more and more difficult every year,” Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary said, Tuesday morning. Managing the multi-day event takes a toll on the department, which has nine full-time officers, O’Leary said.

“We’ve done it. We make it work, but in today’s environment, you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.


Although the department will keep working with the festival if it remains in Winslow, it does not oppose a move to another town.

“We’re not kicking them out; it’s just very taxing for our staff,” O’Leary said.

Some residents also have told him they are tired of hosting the event in their town. “My sense from the people that I talk to, is that around the Fourth of July, they don’t even go down to that part of town,” O’Leary said. “There’s so much traffic, so much going on, that they would rather not participate.”

Fire Chief Dave LaFountain also said many in town would rather not host such a large event. In recent years, it has gotten harder to get firefighters to sign up for shifts to cover the festival, LaFountain added.

“I don’t think there has been any formal communication that’s stated to them they’ve exceeded their welcome,” LaFountain said. At the same time, “I don’t think you’ll be seeing departments fighting with Fairfield to keep it in Winslow.”

Douglass, who has been committee chairman since 2012, said the group has had to fight to put the event on every year. The group put out feelers and found that Fairfield was open to consider hosting the event.


“The plan would be to move the entire event to the same town,” Douglass said. “It’s just easier for the committee.”

Ron LeClair, who led the event committee for 14 years before stepping down in 2010, said working with Winslow was always frustrating. His differences with the town administration eventually led him to resign from the committee, he said.

“There’s always been pushback from the town,” he said.

“Do I think personally that the town wants it to go away? Absolutely. But no one wants to take the blame for making it leave town,” LeClair added.

The event moved to Winslow after a disastrous alcohol-fueled celebration at Head of Falls in Waterville in 1990, in which a couple hundred intoxicated partiers jumped up and down on the Two Cent Bridge until part of it broke and four police officers were injured amid confrontations with people.

Even if it ends up moving to another community, the committee intends to continue to provide an event that will be free and open to the public and will set up a shuttle bus system to get people who typically walk to the event, Douglass said.


“This is basically central Maine’s Fourth of July celebration,” he said. He said the committee “will not turn our backs on the people who have supported us for 25 years.”

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

Comments are no longer available on this story