Eager drivers and passengers sat patiently, waiting to get into Beaverfork Lake Park for the fifth annual Freedom Fest celebration on June 29.
Shortly before 8 p.m. that Saturday, cars were packed bumper to bumper, lining Highway 25 up to the park. Event directors estimated around 11,000-12,000 people were in attendance throughout the day.
Freedom Fest’s Ragan Huse and her co-coordinator Lane Long, previously encouraged attendees to arrive as early as possible and to carpool, but Huse said they still had difficulty at the end of the night, getting the thousands of cars out of the park’s two exits.
“We also hit overflow parking about halfway during the event, which we will continue to work with Conway [Police Department] and our parking volunteers to improve a quicker exit strategy next year,” she said. “We know that is our biggest area to adjust for our attendees, and will continue to strategize how to improve.”
Huse said organizers have already started working with city officials on improvements for 2020.
Despite a few hiccups, Huse said they had a “phenomenal night,” which was full of food trucks, live music, dancing, volleyball games, face painting and more, with a fireworks show lighting up the night sky to end Faulkner County’s largest Independence Day event.
“The weather was absolutely perfect ... we had a cool breeze set in around 7 p.m., which really was relaxing,” she said. “Freedom Fest Conway had another outstanding year,” she said. “I am honored to work alongside our many sponsors and volunteers to create such a joy-filled and Heaven-sent evening for the central Arkansas community.”
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.”
“Freedom Fest 2019 exceeded all expectations,” Long said. “Five years ago we never would’ve thought that nearly 25% of our population in Conway would gather in the same place for a free night of fun, food and fireworks. Families from all over Arkansas and surrounding states got to enjoy a safe, family-friendly environment to make memories in.”
He said the Fourth of July event is, and will continue to be, a “Conway tradition,” encouraging more families to come out next year.
“FreedomFest was a great success,” Conway Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Lacy said. “It’s great to see the community come together to celebrate our independence and to utilize a great public space like Beaverfork. I really appreciate the vision that City Church had to do an event for the community that brings people together.”
City Church’s Cook had a few words to say about this year’s event as well.
“Freedom Fest 2019 was a dynamic celebration for our community,” he said. “This year’s entertainment lineup was incredibly diverse. We danced to country music and then bobbed our heads to the soul/pop playlists. We watched the reflection of the rockets’[s] red glare over Beaverfork [Lake] as we gathered with residents from every corner of our city while the words of the national anthem played.”
Cook described the day as an “unique and special occasion.”
“To me, one of the most incredible parts of the whole experience was the fact that while some 10,000 to 12,000 people gathered together at the lake, the worst injury for the evening was a wasp sting,” he said. “We are looking to continue to improve our parking situation and we do have plans for 2020, the first time that the event will fall on the Fourth of July.”
Huse teased next year’s event a bit, mentioning again how excited they are to host the event on the actual July Fourth holiday.
“We are expecting that we will have a full house again in 2020,” she said. “We had a wonderful lineup of food vendors this year. We were excited to bring on a few new vendors such as Delta Biscuit Co., Kazak Kebab BBQ and Las Delicias. All of the vendors are ready to hop on board for 2020.”