With Independence Day celebrations right around the corner, one group in Conway is working their way through last-minute plans in preparation for its free annual fireworks display.
For the fifth year in a row, City Church and its sponsors will host the largest Fourth of July event, titled Freedom Fest, in Faulkner County set for June 29 at Beaverfork Lake in Conway.
Ragan Huse, event coordinator, said they are anticipating full capacity again this year — 2018’s celebration brought in more than 12,000 from across Arkansas and surrounding areas.
“We were so surprised at the amount of people that came out last year, parking alongside the highway near the park,” Huse said. “We know that having the event a little earlier than the Fourth of July holiday will also bring some extra attendees.”
Lane Long, who works alongside Huse to put the event together, encouraged families to arrive as early in the day as possible.
Freedom Fest — which originated at Laurel Park and welcomed around 1,000, switching to the park to be able to add fireworks — was started by City Church pastor Joey Cook five years ago as a way to add value to the city.
“We’ve said before, ‘In Conway as it is in Heaven,’” Cook previously told the Log Cabin Democrat. “If Heaven came down to our city tomorrow, what would be different?”
Long said the church began working with city officials in 2017 to add more to the event, bringing more hands and safety precautions on board.
“We have gained nothing but utmost respect for our city officials throughout this process, especially our mayor, Bart Castleberry,” Long said. “From the beginning, they saw value and potential with our little Fourth of July Celebration and gave it life.”
He said city officials, members of the fire and police departments and other Conway representatives, have come on at a higher capacity to make the event safer and more efficient for families in Central Arkansas.
“There’s so much work that goes into this event, even on the day of,” Long said. “The fireworks show is the payoff.”
While it’s the show that he’s most looking forward to, he said he found his focus swayed last year to something more gratifying.
“Last year, instead of looking at the fireworks, I caught myself looking at hundreds of families spread out over the lake laughing, smiling and enjoying this memory together we were able to provide,” he said. “That is the most rewarding part of Freedom Fest and makes all the work worth it.”
As the event grows, so do the challenges and concerns, according to Huse, who addressed issues being fixed and other needs met for this year’s event, including parking.
“We are working with our parking team and the city park officials to figure out the best strategy for parking,” she said. “We highly recommend carpooling and are emphasizing that this year because the parking area is limited.”
Production and lighting are other aspects they are processing through currently.
“We noticed that it was very dark after the fireworks [we] are out and there’s over 12,000 people in one place,” Huse said. “We want families to feel safe as they are walking to their car.”
To combat that, lighting in the park has been amped up.
“With the amount of people, we want everyone to enjoy the music and the bands,” she said. “We have brought in some higher quality production equipment to make that happen.”
Guests will not only spot familiar faces, but also return food trucks, activities and a welcoming, family-friendly environment.
“After [receiving] several messages [as a result of] last year’s event, we’re proud to partner with Tobacco Free Central Arkansas with a new policy that we will not allow alcohol or smoking — tobacco and vapors — at this year’s event,” Huse said. “This is a family[-]friendly environment with a clean atmosphere and we will continue to work to improve the event in the years to come for our families.”
Freedom Fest will begin at 5 p.m. and go until after the fireworks show on June 29 at Beaverfork Lake in Conway.
Guests will hear music from artists Dee Dee Jones and Bree Ogden and DJ Ryan Storey.
Long said they do have a headlining band, a “local Arkansas favorite,” which will be announced June 16.
Food trucks on hand for the event will include Bragg’s Big Bites, El Buen Gusto, Kazak Kebab BBQ, Jefferson’s Mobile Grilling, Nate’s Hotdog Haven, Jude’s Delight, Kona Ice and Las Delicias.
To learn more about the event, visit www.freedomfestconway.com.