WINSLOW — Town officials and committee organizers say moving the decadeslong Fourth of July celebration to Clinton a year ago was for the best.

However, some longtime residents who live along the old parade route say they miss the nostalgia and camaraderie that accompanied the floats and marching bands each year.

Kevin Douglass, an organizer of what used to be known as the Winslow Family Fourth of July Celebration, said he’s been “pleasantly surprised” by how well moving the festivities out of Winslow has worked out.

“It’s a good community,” Douglass said. “The fire and police departments and the town has rallied around it.”

For some 26 years, the multiday event including a parade, concerts, children’s activities and fireworks show was held in Fort Halifax Park in Winslow. But after a disagreement between town officials and committee members about unpaid bills could not be resolved, the committee found a new home for the celebration at the Clinton fairgrounds as the Central Maine 4th of July: the Great American Celebration.

At this year’s event, Douglass said, Clinton firefighters will be staffing a dunk tank, live music will be played all day, vendors will be selling food to hungry patrons and fireworks will light up the sky at 9:45 p.m.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the 40-float parade will begin on Baker Street in Clinton and then down Main Street toward the fairgrounds.

Although the move from Winslow was not initially voluntary — Douglass said in 2016 that officials were “pushing us out of town” — he says it was ultimately the right decision. With a crowd of about 70,000 people each year, the celebration had outgrown the park in Winslow. The large attendance created safety problems and a chaotic parking situation.

“People are now able to cross the road and access their cars in a safer manner,” Douglas said. “There’s an ease now. People did not like having to park and be transported into the festival. People like to be able to leave,” he said.

But for those who have lived along the parade route since its inception, the event’s departure from Winslow has felt like a loss.

The Fourth of July has always been special for Muriel Rancourt. She was born on the Fourth; in some ways the parade felt like a special celebration just for her each year.

“I belong to the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) auxiliary and they knew it was my birthday,” Rancourt said, who has lived on North Garand Street for more that 50 years. “So that day they came down and stopped the parade and sang me ‘Happy Birthday.’ It was so beautiful.”

Since the fairgrounds in Clinton is a much larger space, Douglass said, the event doubled its attendance from the year prior. Guests were able move more comfortably through the festival to enjoy the activities, such as the petting zoo and live entertainment. Organizers can access water and power more easily at the fairgrounds, which Douglass said was logistically challenging in Winslow.

“It’s set up for an event like this,” he said.

Winslow police Chief Shawn O’Leary said the space at the park was not conducive to that amount of people, and as it grew more popular, it became a big challenge to police.

About 30,000 to 40,000 people would watch the fireworks in a confined space, O’Leary said, which presented its own problems. About 70 percent of that crowd watched from Bay Street, Augusta Road and the Sebasticook Bridge and blocked traffic, which became a severe safety problem.

In 2015, an Oakland man attempted to drive his truck on the Sebasticook Bridge even as pedestrians passed in front of him, <URL destination=”https://www.centralmaine.com/2015/07/05/oakland-man-arrested-after-hitting-pedestrian-in-wheelchair-after-winslow-fireworks/?rel=related”>hitting a person in a wheelchair.

</URL>”The problem was that there were so many people on the bridge and he just drove down the middle of the road to where they were,” he said. “That just proved our point that the event had outgrown Fort Halifax Park.”

Winslow Town Manager Mike Heavener agreed that the Clinton Fairgrounds is a much better venue for the celebration.

“It had certainly outgrown the venue at the park,” Heavener said. “A lot of folks didn’t go because it was too crowded.”

Despite its long history in Winslow, Heavener said residents have not contacted him about being disappointed that the celebration has moved.

The town’s Fort Halifax Days, a celebration in June that features various historical re-enactments from the mid-1700s, when the fort was built, has replaced the Fourth of July celebration somewhat as a community event, he said.

The nonprofit group that makes up the organizing Fourth of July 4 committee never settled their debt with the town, Heavener said. The group still owes $13,283 in past expenses, which the town probably never will receive.

“We are saving money by not contributing to the organization,” Heavener said.

When asked about the unpaid balance owed to Winslow, Douglass said he didn’t want to discuss the issue. “Everyone tries to put a bad spin on this when it’s really a great family thing,” he said.

But for Rancourt, the North Garand Street resident, the parade also offered her family a special tradition.

“I used to take my lawn chairs and line them all up. Sometimes I’d go out there at 6 a.m. to put my chairs out so no one would take our spot,” she said. “All my children would be here and my grandchildren, we would have coffee and doughnuts waiting for the parade.”

She said it was a rare time that the entire neighborhood would be all together, and she’d see people who she hadn’t seen in a while.

“Once it stopped, we felt bad, because we really loved it,” Rancourt said.

Tim and Diane McGowan, who live down the street from Rancourt, remember the parade as a special family event. The couple lives full time in Huntsville, Alabama, and spends summers in Winslow, but Diana McGowan grew up in the neighborhood.

She said she always found the size of the parade to be impressive.

“The parade lasted forever,” she said. “The streets were lined. We always had a crowd. Our extended family came from everywhere.”

Tim McGowan said he didn’t necessarily miss having the parade, as it grew smaller as people lost interest.

“It’s diminished over the years, but it really quite was … for a small town it was a great undertaking and very worthwhile,” Diane said. “I miss it. It was a little bit nostalgic because it was an old-fashioned kind of thing. It reminded you of more innocent times.”

But now that it’s in Clinton, the couple has lost interest. So has Rancourt.

If a committee got together to put together a parade, Heavener said he would support that.

“I think a lot of people would want one,” he said, as it wouldn’t entail the same work as a larger celebration.

Rancourt said she would love for it to come back to the neighborhood.

“Winslow misses it. I miss it,” she said. “It’s just not the same without it.”

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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