CLINTON — Plans for one of the region’s more popular Fourth of July celebrations continue to advance, as organizers for the Central Maine 4th of July: the Great American Celebration promise a community-based two-day event.

For the past 26 years, the event was held in Fort Halifax Park in Winslow and was known as the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration. However, there was some doubt the event would go on after tension grew between Winslow and the event organizers, a nonprofit group with a board of directors that put on the event with volunteers. Then, after the organization moved on from Winslow, there was doubt the event would find a new home, as Fairfield passed on the event. Finally, the group came to an agreement with the Clinton Lions Club to host the two-day, multi-event celebration at the fairgrounds of the Clinton Lions Agricultural Fair off Route 100.

Kevin Douglass, vice chairman of what was the Winslow Family 4th of July Committee, said things are moving along smoothly in terms of organizing the event, which he has said will be scaled back from past years.

“Everything is going really well,” Douglass said. “Everybody is very supportive in the town of Clinton.”

Douglass said the first day of the celebration, on July 3, will be more oriented toward children, with such things as a petting zoo and pony rides, which he said was similar to how they’ve started past celebrations. A 4th of July Idol competition also will be held, and a band will play in the evening.

On July 4, Douglass said, more events for children will be held, and band perfornances and other entertainment will take place throughout the day.

He said the Clinton Lions will be hosting an event called “crazy ball,” which involves throwing balls into a pen with colored tiles, and those who pick the tiles where the balls land are the winners. Douglass said proceeds from that benefit the Lions Club.

Douglass said local nonprofit organizations have the opportunity to come to the event and raise money for their programs. There is no charge to nonprofits to do this, as long as they agree to help clean up the fairgrounds after the celebration ends. So far, he said, about six nonprofits are interested in coming on board, and he expects a rush of organizations in the week leading up to the event. The celebration will conclude with a fireworks display, which Douglass said will be “tremendous.”

“Every day we’re adding new events,” he said. “There’s bound to be so much more than there actually is today.”

In the past, the multi-day event drew tens of thousands of people and featured a parade through Winslow, live music, contests and fireworks at Fort Halifax Park on the Kennebec River.

The Winslow celebration, which sometimes attracted 70,000 people to the park — nearly 10 times the population of the town — also had been viewed as too large for the venue. The crowd at Fort Halifax spilled out onto the main road, which is U.S. Route 201. That created traffic congestion when the fireworks went off. The rising cost of local police coverage was one of the major reasons cited by town officials and organizers for the falling out between Winslow and the celebration committee.

The event had 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.

Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener confirmed there will be no Fourth of July events in the town whatsoever this year. The event organizers still owe Winslow $13,283. He said the group last made a payment of $1,000 at the end of March. Based on the group’s past operations, he said, the organizers won’t have the money to pay off the debt before the celebration, as it’s a major fundraiser.

“I anticipate I will be having a conversation with them after the Fourth to talk about the remainder that’s owed,” Heavener said.

Douglass has said the organization still is working to raise money to pay off its debt to Winslow, but the celebration needed to happen in order to be able to pay the debt, as that is the organization’s major source of funding.

The Clinton celebration will be much smaller, as the fairgrounds can accommodate only about 4,000 cars.

Before the celebration organizers settled with Clinton, it wasn’t a sure bet the event actually would happen. The organizers got off to a rocky start with the Lions Club when they failed to show up at a meeting, which was a somewhat familiar pattern, as the organizers also had 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.

However, the agreement with the Clinton Lions eventually materialized, and Douglass said organizing this year’s event has been going more smoothly than ever. He said the stress level of putting on the celebration was lower than ever.

“It’s really amazing how more community-oriented this event is now and how less stress it is organizing it over here,” he said.

While Douglass said change is hard, he believes moving to Clinton will yield the best outcome for everyone, and that those who go will enjoy the new space.

“I do believe this change will lead to a lot of positive outcomes,” he said.

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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