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Setup begins for battlefield's Salute to Independence event

July 01, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

SHARPSBURG - While a 30-page plan details how to put on an annual Fourth of July celebration that attracts about 30,000 people, Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent John Howard said it's not as difficult as it appears.

"We've been doing it for so long that the setup is pretty easy," Howard said Thursday.

Of the 20 years for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra's Salute to Independence celebration at the battlefield, all but two required the same setup.

Basically, crews build the stage and sound towers days in advance, section off parts of the field, prepare for parking, security and traffic issues, and perform other routine checks.

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"A lot of what they're doing is down pat," Howard said.

But while setting up might not be much of a challenge, the same cannot be said for trying to leave the battlefield after the event, which features a concert by the MSO and a 15- to 20-minute fireworks display.

The celebration will be Saturday. The two-hour concert begins at 7:30 p.m.

Howard said spectators can expect delays of about one to two hours when trying to leave because of the volume of people attending.

"It's an issue we've perfected to the point where we can't perfect it anymore," Howard said. "Traffic is always a problem. Literally, there's not much more we can do ..."

Limited parking will be available at the battlefield, but additional spaces will be available along Md. 65 (Sharpsburg Pike) and Md. 34.

Spectators who park along the highways usually have an easier time getting out, but they also have the farthest to walk to and from the battlefield, Howard said.

His suggestion? Wear comfortable shoes.

"You're going to be here a while," Howard said.

For many people, Howard said the walking and the waiting aren't problems. He said spectators often come prepared by hauling food, blankets and other necessities in wagons or carts.

He recommended that spectators bring flashlights, bug repellent and patience, but said they are allowed to bring whatever they can carry - with the exception of barbecue grills.

"It works out fairly well," Howard said.

To assist with traffic and other security measures, Howard said plenty of National Park Service rangers, Maryland State Police and deputies from the Washington County Sheriff's Department will be on hand.

He declined to give the exact number of police, but he said the event usually is safe and free from crime. In the last 20 years, there has been one arrest for disorderly conduct and two citations for illegal sales, he said.

"It's a very family-oriented event," Howard said.

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