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Security increased for Fourth celebration

July 03, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

The National Park Service will be beefing up patrols and inspecting unattended bags to ensure the safety of the 20,000 to 30,000 people expected to crowd Antietam National Battlefield for Saturday's Salute to Independence fireworks display.

The precautions are a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the continuing threat of terrorism, Chief Ranger Ed Wenschhof said.

"We want people to feel safe at the concert, and we've made changes that they may or may not notice," he said.

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The park service will be searching all suspicious or unattended bags at the park on Md. 65, Wenschhof said. The park service is encouraging attendees to bring their belongings into the park no earlier than 2 p.m. The fireworks begin at 9:45 p.m.

The number of entrances also will be limited and people will be channeled through the main seating area to give security staff a better view of those attending the concert, Wenschhof said.

About 100 National Park Service, Washington County Sheriff's deputies and local volunteer groups will be patrolling the park on foot, on bicycles and in vehicles, Wenschhof said. Last year, the park used a security staff of 70 people, he said.

In recent years, the security staff has made arrests for assault and illegal sales and had a minor domestic incident during the fireworks celebration, Wenschhof said.

As in previous years, planes from the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard from Martinsburg, W.Va., will make passes over the battlefield for the celebration, according to a pilot, Capt. Chris Sigler.

"We told ourselves if we have the manpower, we'd still do it. As it turned out, there was enough people interested," Sigler said.

The event is special to the pilots, and he's proud to be one of the soldiers who will be piloting the C-130 that will make two passes over the battlefield at 7 p.m., Sigler said.

During the first pass, the plane will speed by at 150 mph. For the second pass, the plane will gain speed and be going 250 mph, Sigler said.

This year's fireworks celebration will be without the crowd-pleasing artillery guns that have accompanied Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," played by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra.

The Maryland National Guard's Battery B, 2nd Battalion, 110th Field Artillery was activated to support the war on terrorism.

Wenschhof said he believes that the park crowd will live up to expectations on Saturday based on the attendance he's seen at other events in the Tri-State area.

People are realizing that they need to live their lives despite the terrorism in the world, he said.

Wenschhof said he's seen the concert and fireworks 11 times and is still moved by their beauty.

"I'll miss the artillery though," he said.

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