Where’s the festival? Harrisburg’s Fourth of July pleases some, baffles others

This story was originally published on July 4, 2014 on PennLive.

Ekaterina Rotz was confused.

The Hampden Twp. resident was looking around Riverfront Park in Harrisburg on July 4 for a festival that just wasn’t there.

“It’s the Fourth of July!” she exclaimed. “There’s always something like ArtsFest or something here on the Fourth of July.”

She gestured to her friend and neighbor, Tim Fisher, 50. “We were shocked that there was nothing here,” she said. “I was like ‘How cheap can this city be?'”

What Rotz didn’t know was that the Harrisburg Fourth of July activities had undergone a change this year. Instead of a riverfront festival, the city was hosting an Independence Weekend Walkaround.

The weekend-long event takes place at different locations throughout the city and includes the Family Fun Festival, a free event that features concerts, dancing, face painting and bouncy castles.

The majority of festivities were held at Reservoir Park on July 4 and will be held at City Island on July 5 and Italian Lake on July 6.

The goal, according to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, is to showcase the entirety of the city.

“It’s part of a strategy to highlight some of our great assets here in Harrisburg, to encourage people to take a new look at our great park system and a treasure like this,” he said, walking through Reservoir Park on July 4.

Papenfuse admitted that financial reasons were partly behind the change in July 4th festivities. “This is a little less of a production to put together,” he said. “But it’s still been a lot of work.”

However, he emphasized that the final decision was really about showcasing Harrisburg.

“Change is a good thing and I think it’s part of the new marketing campaign for the city,” he said. “You’re going to see on all the CAT buses the ‘Summer in the City’ logo. We’re going to show various parts of the city that maybe aren’t as iconic as others and it’s an attempt to get people to look at Harrisburg more broadly.”

Once Rotz heard the new Fourth of July plan, her opinion changed. “That sounds good,” she said with a grin, adding later that she plans on popping by on Sunday for the Italian Lake event.

“That’s a good idea,” chimed in Fisher. “It gets everyone to see the different sites of the city.”

It was about time the city did something new for Fourth of July, according to Cierra Ross, 29, of Harrisburg.

“I like the change,” she said. “It was kind of boring the way it was before.”

Amber Wave, 27, of Harrisburg was glad she wasn’t going to have to push her way through a crowded riverfront. “That riverfront is crazy with people,” she said. The switch to different locations, Reservoir Park in particular, meant there was more space for everyone.

Tracy Lantz, 43, of Derry Twp. was also a fan.

“It’s been fun,” she said after exploring the Family Fun Festival with her daughter Reyna Lambdin, 11. “It’s been a great day to get outside. There are a lot of neat things to see.”

Lantz loved the fact that the festivities were changing location every day. “I like that [the walkaround] spreads it out and it takes you to different parts of the city, not just the riverfront every time,” she said. “[Reservoir Park] is a great park to walk around in, and it’s nice they’re including it.”

This Fourth of July was the first time Tiffany Rendall, 30, of Hershey had spent the holiday in Harrisburg. “I’ve enjoyed it,” she said, after walking around Reservoir Park. “I like having things spread out, it’s like an adventure finding out what’s up on the hill.”

However, she was surprised by the small number of people present. Around 1 p.m. there appeared to be less than 200 people at the park for the event.

“It was smaller than I thought,” Lantz said. “But this seems to be a good setup.”

Her friend, Vanessa Capodanno was also surprised. “I felt we were really early,” she said, looking around.

Quincen Sherard, 52, of Harrisburg, placed the blame of attendance on the new location. “People are used to being down there [at Riverfront Park],” he said. “A lot of people may not know about [Reservoir] Park.”

Cole Goodman, committeeman for Susquehanna Township’s eighth ward and volunteer at the walkaround agreed that the new location made things difficult.

“I would guess that the hardest thing was just making sure everyone knows it’s here and stuff,” he said. “You know we’ve had stuff on the riverfront. This year it is different. It’s a change.”

Not everyone was a fan of the new Fourth of July plans.

Gary Brown, 43, of Harrisburg had come to Riverfront Park early in the afternoon to grab a good spot to see the fireworks, only to learn there was no festival and no fireworks that evening there.

“I’m mad they’re not having it this year,” he said, regarding the traditional riverfront festival. “I’m very, very, very disappointed. A lot of people come from all over to come to our [Fourth of July festival] down here on the riverfront.”

“I find it very disappointing,” he continued. “I was looking forward to it and I look forward to it every year.”

“When you’re so used to something, it’s hard to take in a change,” he admitted. “I’m so used to coming down here for the Fourth of July, so it’s different.”

“Everything is changing,” he said. “I like the old way.”

DETAILS: The Harrisburg Independence Weekend Walkaround continues July 5-6. Visit stayandplayhbg.com for a complete schedule of events and locations. A firework show will be held on July 5 on City Island.

Published by juliahatmaker

Storyteller, journalist and explorer. On a mission to entertain and inform.

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