Uncertainty abounds this year about where the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration will be held – or if it will be held at all.

The group organizing the celebration, which has called Fort Halifax on the Kennebec River home for events and a fireworks display, sought to move the festivities to Fairfield following financial disagreements with Winslow.

However, the organizers’ formal proposal was not accepted by Fairfield, and the organizers haven’t come back with another proposal. The volunteer celebration group is eyeing Clinton as a possibility, but an official there says many details need to be worked out. Officials in Winslow say the group needs to pay thousands in unpaid bills if festivities are to be in that town.

Kevin Douglass, vice chairman of the Winslow Family 4th of July Committee, the volunteer group that puts on the event, said while the group’s proposal had originally been for Mill Island, they were open to any venue in Fairfield, which included the Police Athletic League sports fields. However, the Fairfield Town Council ultimately did not approve a plan for Mill Island.

“I said we’d be open to any location,” Douglass said last week.

For 26 years, the Winslow Family 4th of July Celebration has been a staple in central Maine. The event draws tens of thousands annually and features parades through town, live music, contests and fireworks at Fort Halifax Park. But after decades of the multi-day events, tension has grown between Winslow and the organizers, a nonprofit group with a board of directors that put on the event with volunteers.

Rising costs for police coverage is one of the major reasons cited for the falling out between Winslow and the celebration. Also, the celebration costs between $50,000 and $60,000, and in recent years the organizers have struggled to raise the funds.

As early as 2015, the organizers began seeking a new home and reached out to officials in Fairfield. Douglass met with town officials a handful of times, but those talks stalled. In late 2016, Douglass said the organization had settled on Fairfield as a location for the event because it offered more space, and he said the group was planning to restructure the celebration. At the time, he said they were planning to scale back the event to a smaller, more community-oriented celebration. He said the goal was to make the event more like Old Home Days celebrations, which are annual celebrations usually held in early summer in New England towns.

However, the festival right now doesn’t have a home.

Fairfield Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said town councilors did not approve the last plan for the festival to come to town. The 4th of July Committee last came before the council at its Dec. 14, 2016, meeting. The committee was instructed to come back with a different plan at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 28. Flewelling said there were a number of concerns the town had with the plans the group had come forward with, including possible locations.

Flewelling said the council indicated they would like to see some kind of July Fourth celebration in the future, but this proposal was not it.


This past year, the event’s prospects were thrown into question over an impasse concerning costs for police coverage, with organizers saying that an initial $11,000 estimated cost was too high. Those worries were quelled after area police departments and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office agreed to pitch in to help Winslow police cover the festivities.

The event moved to Winslow after a disastrous alcohol-fueled celebration at Head of Falls in Waterville in 1990, in which a couple of hundred intoxicated people jumped up and down on the Two Cent Bridge until part of it broke and four police officers were injured in confrontations.

Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener said the organizers of the event still owe the town $14,000 for public safety provided over the past two years. He said they were hoping to work out that payment with the organizers, as they had made a smaller payment in 2016. Last year’s police and fire coverage for the celebration was over $10,000, and the year prior to that the coverage cost over $6,000. Last year the organizers made a payment of about $2,000.

Gerald Saint Amand, who was on the board of directors for the event, said the committee is working with Winslow to resolve the issue. Most of the money is raised through fundraising, he said, though the town does contribute some.

“Hopefully we’ll have a clearer picture of what’s going to happen,” he said.

Heavener said it was up to the Town Council to decide whether the event would be brought back in the future, but he said the town would need to be paid back and given a financial assurance about payment, such as a retainer or being paid in full up front.

However, the celebration itself still presents concerns.

“The concern I think that we’ve had over the last couple years has been the venue,” Heavener said.

The celebrations were held in Fort Halifax Park, which Heavener said was not large enough to accommodate the crowds. Roughly 70,000 attended the celebration, which is about 10 times larger than the town’s population. The crowd at Fort Halifax spills out onto the main road, which is Route 201. This creates traffic congestion, he said, especially when the fireworks go off.

“We’ve got concerns about that. We don’t feel it’s a sufficient venue for the evening of the fireworks,” Heavener said.

Heavener said the town won’t go without some kind of celebration, though. For the third year in a row, the town will hold Fort Halifax Days, which includes a series of historical reenactments.


Flewelling said Fairfield may do their own July Fourth celebration in the future, maybe as early as next year. She said it was just too late this year in terms of the budget, and it was too late to organize an event on their own.

Douglass said he was optimistic there will be a Family 4th of July Celebration. They have been in discussions with Clinton, which has fairgrounds that Douglass said provided much better parking than the current spot in Winslow. He said he didn’t even think it was an option whether or not to celebrate.

“What it stands for is so much bigger than any of us,” Douglass said.

Douglass said it was important that the area did not lose such a major celebration. He said that whichever community became home for the event would show it was the “most patriotic community in central Maine.”

Buddy Frost, who is on the board of directors for the Clinton Lions Club, said there have been preliminary discussions about moving the fireworks portion of the celebration to town. Clinton does not hold a July Fourth fireworks event, but it does shoot off fireworks during the fair the club hosts in early September. Frost said there are still details to be worked out, but he believed the board was overall in favor of bringing the fireworks to Clinton.

“We had a meeting with them. We have details to work out. But I think – we haven’t voted yet – but overall there’s a good chance we will do that,” Frost said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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