Freedom Celebration returns to UI campus

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign County Freedom Celebration spent more than 50 years on the University of Illinois campus and will return on Thursday after a seven-year sabbatical to Parkland College.

It will be "different, but the same for old townies," said Freedom Celebration President Ginny Schlorff.

"The public asked for it every year," she said. "I think the Parkland move was never really intended to be permanent."

The fireworks will be launched from UI parking lot E-14. Parking — with police assistance after the fireworks — will be available in the UI Research Park, the Activities and Recreation Center and at the southeast corner of the State Farm Center.

Parking lots west of the arena will be reserved for spectators, as will the field north of Kirby Avenue and west of Memorial Stadium.

Other UI parking lots may be used also, but there will be no police directing traffic at those locations.

What if the fireworks get rained out?

According to the Freedom Celebration's website, organizers would try to reschedule the show for Friday.

But there is no rain date for the parade, although weather could delay its start. The public is encouraged to follow local media — such as WDWS radio and http://www.news-gazette.com — if Thursday's weather appears iffy. Twitter users can follow the Champaign County Freedom Celebration at @julyfourth.

Relocating the fireworks is not the only change this year.

Participants should note that the parade and 5K run/walk have been moved up two hours this year to avoid the heat — though this year's forecast is less oppressive than last year's 100-degree temperatures at the start of the parade.

The committee moved the fireworks to Dodds Park in 2006 when Memorial Stadium was under renovation. After the construction kept the fireworks show from coming back for the first couple years, it just stayed near Parkland, Schlorff said.

"Then you're just kind of there," she said. "Every year, we talk about different spots, and we were told that the (Urbana campus) chancellor was open to bringing it back."

It has produced a very positive response from the public, Schlorff said, except for a few people who live near Dodds Park.

Traffic should be much better this year, she said. There are really only three ways in and out of Dodds Park, but plenty of streets in and out of the campus area.

"At the U of I, there's a hundred different ways in and out depending on where you and your family want to sit," Schlorff said.

In fact, the move had a lot to do with this year's theme — "United We Stand, Proudly We Serve." The celebration's grand marshal is listed as local police and fire departments.

As they started planning moving the fireworks back to the UI, coming up with traffic plans and public safety regulations, Schlorff said, they realized how much police and fire agencies have a role in keeping participants safe.

A number of streets in the area of the fireworks will be closed on Thursday, and police officers will be on duty directing traffic and keeping pedestrians safe.

"How they all come together to make our event happen," she said. "It doesn't rely on just one city, it's all of them."

If you go

7:30 a.m. — Registration for youth run & 5K race/walk (east side of State Farm Center on Fourth Street)

8:30 a.m. — Youth run (east side of State Farm Center on Fourth Street)

9:05 a.m. — 5K race/walk (east side of State Farm Center on Fourth Street)

11:05 a.m. — Parade

7 p.m. — Evening entertainment (Kirby Avenue between First and Oak streets)

9:15 p.m. — Fireworks (launched from UI parking lot E-14, west of State Farm Center)

On the Web: For more information, visit http://www.july4th.net.

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OilCity wrote on July 03, 2013 at 3:07 pm

This also should cut down on the shootings in west Champaign after the event. That is the true motivation for the change.

Danvillain wrote on July 05, 2013 at 1:07 am

I went to the wrong show. A few years back, WIXY was at Lake of the Woods. Since then, year by year, Lake of the Woods was becoming less and less impressive. This year was the tipping point for me. The fireworks just purely sucked. Every 9th one seemed like a dud; they couldn't even get them above the tree line!! It was more interesting to watch other fireworks displays from Lake of the Woods than the actual supposed "light up the lake" failure. Just pure junk; don't waste the money. In related news, can I get a heck yea for those Hoopeston fireworks?? WOW! The finale was good, but the intro was quite frankly the best I've ever seen!!