July 3, 2013 9:10:00 PM
Sarah Fowler - [email protected]
Organizers of today's Independence Day celebration, Fireworks on the Water, said they expect this year's event to be better than ever.
Despite the threat of rain, Columbus Air Force Base Chief Public Affairs Officer Sonic Johnson said they are preparing for maximum crowds for the event, which will be staged on the East Bank of the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam.
"As our team prepares for a really classy birthday party, 237 years for our nation, we're ready," Johnson said. "We're going to have a really great blues artist. We're going to have a symphony playing an hour patriotic set, and vocal set. It's going to be entertaining right before a choreographed fireworks show. We're going to be ready. We're inviting everyone to come out and be free.
"We're not sure of the weather. It's not going to be the best weather we could have asked for but barring a severe thunderstorm, we plan on proceeding with the show."
Johnson said festival-goers can check the Facebook pages of both the CAFB and the Columbus Convention and Visitor's Bureau for updates.
"That's how we'll communicate last minute if for any reason we have to cancel but that's not what we're planning," he said.
The last Fireworks on the Water event was held in 2009. Johnson said the event drew a crowd of 8,400 people. He is encouraging people to come early, saying the gates will close if organizers are faced with overcrowding.
"One thing about the facility versus the base is it's 63 acres versus 5,300 acres," Johnson said. "We don't have the capacity just to park people so when it does (hit capacity) the police department will shut off Lock and Dam Road. That's why I encourage people to come early and get that spot."
He said the Lock and Dam is a perfect background for the fireworks display but added that parking is tight. Johnson said that engineers were called in to section off parking spots.
"I think that this park is almost exactly matched to the venue because we still had excess parking in 2009 but we were close. We actually had an engineer draw it out. We have a more efficient parking plan."
CVB director Nancy Carpenter said buses will not be available to shuttle people into the event.
"We have found in the past that people don't want to be separated from their cars," Carpenter said. "It works better to park their cars. We know exactly how many cars can be parked and we know that on the east bank we can accommodate over 8,000 people."
In addition to the fireworks display and musical acts of Goody Champion and the Starkville MSU Symphony string ensemble, a fly-over will take place at 7 p.m. Due to the sequestration budget cuts, Johnson said the fly-over will not use active military aircraft but instead will be performed using retired planes.
"Sequestration has forbidden us to do that," Johnson said. "There is a not a fly-over, this weekend anywhere with the United States Air Force in this country. We're going to have a P-51 and four T-6 Texan Ones, World War II planes."
Carpenter said that part of the reason the CVB wanted to partner with CAFB was due to the sequestration and potential lack of celebration.
"The impetus for this event is the CVB board and myself wanting to give back and to honor the men and women of Columbus Air Force Base," Carpenter said. "We knew that with sequestration, fly-overs and fireworks displays all over this country would be canceled, so we wanted to present something for both the community and a way to honor the men and women of Columbus Air Force Base," she said.
A family-friendly event, Johnson said bouncy castles and jumpers will be available to enjoy free of charge. The gates open at 4 p.m.
"If you come early, there's no crowd to fight," he said. "It's a great festive thing to do. Fourth of July is kind of a nice, unique holiday where we all have our differences during the day, but we can all get together and celebrate this great nation that allows us to have all of these differences. It's kind of a neat thing.
"I think it's a great way to start the Fourth of July weekend."
Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.