Both sides of the river enjoy Star spangled celebration

By HASKEL BURNS,

Organizers for the inaugural Coca-Cola Star Spangled Celebration on the River weren’t quite sure what kind of turnout to expect for the event’s first year.

As it turns out, the food, fun and fireworks brought participants in droves, and the celebration was a bigger success than anyone could have imagined.

The event, which was held July 3 at Petal River Park and Chain Park on the Leaf River, brought in an estimated 10,000 people – more than 4,000 on the Petal side and about 6,000 on the Hattiesburg side.

“It was beyond our expectations – we were hoping about 1,500 might show up,” said Valerie Wilson, executive director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce. “It was fabulous.

“The weather turned out beautiful, we had a packed park and everybody appeared to be having a great time. The kids were on the inflatables playing, many people brought lawn chairs and listened to the music, and it was great.”

Participants on both sides of the event – which was hosted by the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association and the Forrest County Board of Supervisors - were treated to a night of music, with the Petal side featuring Charles “CC” Carter, Mississippi Moonlight, Wes Lee and the Lanna Wakeland Band. Royal Horses, Sugarmouth and Pinebelt Pickers entertained the crowd on the Hattiesburg side. 

A plethora of vendors also were on hand for the festivities, including Southern Beverage, Mercury Pizza, Country Kettle Corns & Skins and Kona Ice.

“We were very, very pleased with the event,” HHDA executive director Andrea Saffle said. “All the vendors that I talked to were very pleased. We didn’t know how much food to plan for, but now we’ve got a good baseline, and everybody I talked to was on board for doing it again.

“We heard a lot of great, positive feedback, and we’ve got some great ideas for what we want to do next year to improve some of the things we found that we can do better.”

That includes traffic control and parking, which was a bit of an issue given the number of people who showed up for the event.

“We had so many people show up, that even with the shuttle buses, we couldn’t keep up with the influx of people,” Wilson said. “So there are some issues that we’re going to be looking at for next year, and we welcome anybody to give some constructive criticism.

“So we’ve got to work through some of it, but all in all it was absolutely fabulous.”

Officials are also looking at adding additional transport, such as golf carts, to possibly give rides to people from Highway 42 to the parks.

“We weren’t sure to how to plan for that any better, but now that we know how it works and how many people will actually come, we’ve got a much better idea of what to do differently,” Saffle said.