Celebrate America returning for second year

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

When Alabaster city officials expressed the desire to hold more family friendly events during the summer months, Kingwood Church officials said they knew exactly where to start.

“About a year-and-a-half or two years ago, our senior pastor, Jay West, met with the mayor and said ‘What can we do to bless the city?’” said Benny Cunningham, the church’s outreach pastor and administrator of Kingwood Christian School.

“The mayor said they were looking to do more family oriented events. We knew the city didn’t do anything big for the Fourth of July, so we immediately thought about Celebrate America,” Cunningham added, noting the church partners with the city to sponsor the event.

Last year’s Celebrate America marked the first of its kind in Alabaster, and proved to be much more successful than the event organizers anticipated.

“We expected between 2,000 and 3,000 people. We had about 8,500 people show up,” Cunningham added with a laugh. “It created an absolute traffic nightmare.”

Because the church and the city now have a better idea of how many people to expect, the organizers are working to prevent the traffic and crowding woes of last year. Although Veterans Park contains vast fields and enough seating for thousands, the venue’s single entrance and exit can snarl traffic entering and leaving, he said.

This year, the Alabaster Police Department and Fire Department will join parking team volunteers to direct traffic into and out of the park. The event organizers are asking visitors to not park on Alabama 119 or along the drive entering the park.

This year’s free Celebrate America event will begin at 6 p.m. with a Kids Zone featuring inflatable games and rides. Games2U will be on site from 6-8 p.m. with interactive experiences such as video game theaters, an outdoor laser tag game and giant hamster balls.

From 7:15-8 p.m., local bands will perform on the main stage, and the city will hold a Movie in the Park event featuring “Yogi Bear” beginning at 8 p.m. After the movie, Pyro Productions will present an explosive fireworks show.

Food vendors, such as Jim-N-Nick’s, Guthrie’s, Wing King, Moe’s Little Italy’s Pizza, Yaya’s Burgers and Dogs, Kona Ice and the Publix deli will be selling food and drinks on-site.

Cunningham urged visitors to try to arrive as early as possible and to carpool, as there are a limited number of parking spaces available.

When the event is over, police officers and parking team volunteers will close down Alabama 119 to allow for a more efficient departure from the park. However, event organizers urged motorists to be on the lookout for those directing traffic and to refrain from driving on the jogging tracks.

Last year, Cunningham said he was worried the drought-like conditions would affect the fireworks show, but this year is a much different scenario.

“We all started praying for rain. I think it worked too well,” Cunningham said. “Now, we’re worried there might be too much rain.

“But we’re really excited about it,” he added. “It’s a great partnership.”