Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival goes out with a bang
Final day draws 125,000 people downtown
CEDAR RAPIDS — The stars-and-stripes bow in Alysin Kinney’s hair fluttered as the 6-year-old launched herself into the air and did a flip while bouncing on a trampoline Monday during the final day of Freedom Fest in downtown Cedar Rapids.
Set up on the Second Avenue Bridge, the trampoline was just one of the many attractions that helped draw about 125,000 to town for the Fourth of July celebration.
“Seeing people having fun after a year’s worth of work, that is fun,” said Liz Neff, events and marketing director for the non-profit Cedar Rapids Freedom Festival Inc., which presents the annual 15-day extravaganza. “To see the fruits of your labor, and to see everyone enjoying it, that’s really rewarding.”
Neff said she and Freedom Festival Executive Director Robyn Rieckhoff were “living on very little sleep” Monday but were finding time to enjoy reaching the finish line.
The festival, which began June 20 and included some 80 events, overtook the Second and Third avenue bridges Monday and 26 vendors and booths took the place of vehicles.
The First Avenue Bridge was cordoned off for the night’s fireworks.
As the day went on, lines of children began forming as dozens waited for their chance on the trampoline, rock wall and swing carousel.
“Our events have exploded this year,” Neff said. “Attendance has been wonderful, and the weather has been amazing.”
More than $125,000 was spent on July Fourth’s events alone, she said, from the electricity on the bridges to the police presence to the sound system for the music-synced fireworks show.
Neff said she strives to honor the traditions of the 32-year-old festival — as a Cedar Rapids native, she has memories of the festival as a child — while keeping it new and exciting, too.
Festival staples — tents with fresh funnel cakes, hot kennel corn and face painting — were popular spots along the bridges.
While face painter Natalie Shaffer carefully drew a red, white and blue stripe on 4-year-old Tenley Heald’s face, her mother Jeanne Heald said she and her family have attended Freedom Festival for the past 15 years.
The main draw, she said, is the fireworks.
“But I won’t tell you our secret spot,” she said with a laugh.
In the late afternoon, hundreds of people were already staking out their spots in the grass on May’s Island and along the east bank of the Cedar River for the 9:45 p.m. show, which promised to litter the sky with more than 5,300 fireworks for a half-hour.
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