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A survival guide to the Salute to Independence

July 04, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Approximately 25,000 people are expected to make their way to Antietam National Battlefield tomorrow for the 23rd annual Salute to Independence, featuring the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and fireworks.

That's 25,000 people making their way down two-lane roads and hoping to get a good spot, with many arriving hours before the concert starts.

So here are some tips and information about do's and don'ts and how to spend the time without annoying your picnicking neighbors.

What to wear, what to bring

Dress in loose-fitting, light clothing. Light clothes reflect more heat and loose clothes allow perspiration to evaporate so the body doesn't get too hot, said Don Weigel, assistant chief with Sharpsburg Area Emergency Medical Services Inc.

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Wear comfortable shoes because, most likely, you'll be doing some serious walking from your parking spot to the concert area at the battlefield. Weigel said people have walked as far as 2 miles from car to concert area.

Bring sunscreen and bug spray, but no grills or pets.

Park officials recommend visitors label their property with their name.

Bring plenty of water -- Sharpsburg EMS officials recommend drinking a liter (about a quart) an hour to stay hydrated on a hot day.

You'll also need a flashlight because it will be dark when you're heading back to your vehicle after the fireworks. There will be temporary lighting set up, but there will still be dark spots where you could sprain an ankle.

You may bring lawn chairs, playpens, strollers that work on grass, coolers and wagons to carry your stuff. You may also bring blankets, but keep in mind your group cannot take up more than a 10-foot-by-10-foot area.

You may bring a picnic and alcohol, though Weigel doesn't recommend consuming alcoholic beverages in the heat because alcohol will rapidly dehydrate you.

No personal fireworks or sparklers will be allowed.

Canopies and beach umbrellas are permitted but must be taken down before the concert.

There will be portable toilets, but no hand-washing stations so bring handwipes or hand sanitizer.

Getting in and out

The concert and fireworks are a rain-or-shine event. However, if a severe thunderstorm is headed for Sharpsburg, you should check to see if the event is canceled.

Check www.herald-mail.com or listen to 97.5 FM, 104.7 FM or 1410 AM to find out if the event has been canceled. If you're already at the battlefield, any cancellations will be announced via the speaker system.

Officials with the National Park Service, Washington County Sheriff's Department and Hagerstown REACT will direct traffic in and out of the event area.

Wenschhof said people start parking along Sharpsburg Pike before the parking lots by the visitors center and along Dunker Church Road are full, though it can take longer to get out of those lots when the fireworks end.

For County Commuter service, park along Md. 34 and walk to the Richardson Avenue intersection, downhill from National Cemetery. A round trip costs $2 and is free for ages 4 and younger. There will still be a 300-yard walk from the bus drop-off to the concert area. (See the map for more information.)

Paramedic Dennis Browne advises people to walk on the passenger side of the parked vehicles so you are walking along the battlefield and not next to auto traffic.

After the fireworks, expect at least a one-hour to 90-minute traffic delay when leaving the event, so you might want to hit the head before you head for the car.

Do's and don'ts

In fairness to others and for security reasons, Antietam National Battlefield has set up the following rules regarding people laying out tarps or blankets for the Salute to Independence concert:

o Tarps or blankets cannot be placed before 6 a.m. Saturday. Tarps placed earlier than this will be removed.

o Tarps not occupied by 7 p.m. Saturday will be removed.

o Tarps or reserved areas per group are to be no larger than 10 feet by 10 feet.

Impounded tarps or blankets can be found at the main information booth at the top of the hill were the lost and found will be.

While you're waiting

Visitors start arriving at the battlefield as early as 10 a.m. The concert is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Here are some suggestions for how to kill that time:

o Park policy (stated at www.nps.gov/anti/planyourvisit/outdooractivities.htm) does not permit activities such as kite flying, ball games, sunbathing, model airplane or rocket flying and Frisbee tossing at the battlefield, except at the Rohrbach Group Campground. This is due to the somber nature of the historic battlefield -- it is considered a burial ground for many Civil War soldiers.

However, park officials appear to be lenient on the day of the Salute to Independence concert. Herald-Mail reporters have seen spectators tossing a Nerf football, playing catch with a Velcro ball and paddles, playing jai alai and tossing a Frisbee. Your best bet for an activity like this is to go away from the crowd so as not to disturb picnickers.

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