Lake Forest Parks and Recreation will continue a 14-year tradition by presenting its annual Festival & Fireworks on July 4 at Deerpath Community Park. The Festival & Fireworks has been held every year since 2006 except for 2020 (due to COVID-19).
The event, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m., will feature a live concert with bands Sixteen Candles and Hello Weekend, games for kids, food vendors, and what Lake Forest Director of Parks, Recreation & Forestry Sally Swarthout calls “the best fireworks on the North Shore,” set to patriotic music.
“Every community has their own way of celebrating the 4th of July, and each community is unique and different,” she says. “This particular festival fits for our residents and our neighbors in Lake Bluff. It’s a celebration for both communities.”
After the challenges of last year for organizations whose missions involve putting on events. Swarthout says she’s thrilled to get the Festival & Fireworks up and running again.
“We’re so excited to have the festival back. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the road back to health,” she says. “We’re looking forward to just coming back together as communities.”
The festival draws between 8,000 to 10,000 people (in non-pandemic years) from the North Shore and beyond.
“We want people to come out and enjoy what we have to offer,” Swarthout says.
While Lake Forest Parks and Recreation is a department of the City of Lake Forest, much of its funding for special events comes from the Friends of Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Foundation. Swarthout says the Foundation is critical in helping the Parks and Recreation fulfill and expand its mission.
“They’re very important to us and they have done so many wonderful things for us, everything from ball fields to batting cages to basketball courts to rescue boats,” she says. “They’ve helped with all kinds of things for this community that we’ve truly needed, and that not always public funds were available for.”
Rick Amos sits on the board of the Friends of Lake Forest Foundation and has served as event coordinator for the Festival & Fireworks since its inception.
“We’re a 20-person volunteer army, if you will, and our mission is to engage our residents and make them aware of all the great things at the Parks and Recreation Department,” he explains.
Amos says Lake Forest is unique on the North Shore in that other communities have park districts that operate independently from city or village governments, while Lake Forest Parks and Rec is a department of the city. The Foundation was created as a separate 501(c)(3) to raise funds for events and other activities.
The Foundation board also provides feedback and interacts with the residents through surveys and assessment programs to help the city understand what the needs of the residence are as it relates to the Parks and Rec Department.
“We hold the Festival & Fireworks event, have a music festival in August, and throw a golf outing. We also do Christmas events,” he says. “Last year, we recognized the need to have a fire and rescue boat at our marina for patrolling around the shore of Lake Michigan, so we raised funds for that.”
Amos says the Foundation board views the city’s beautiful natural environment as being an important asset for Lake Forest’s 20,000 residents, and that keeping the downtown looking nice and attractive for restaurants and businesses is what motivates him to serve on the board,
“We view Parks and Recreation as being an important asset within the community. There are certainly those that feel like to attract the next generation of residents we need to have the features that are important when considering where you want to live and raise your family,” Amos says. “One of our big amenities that we support is our lakefront. We think it’s the best lakefront on the North Shore and it’s one of the strongest natural assets of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff. So we are focused on activities that boost awareness and connect the community.”
For now, Amos, the Foundation board, and staff are focused on putting on the Festival & Fireworks and offering a time of celebration for community.
“It’s a great event with food and games and music and the weather’s usually great. We put on a phenomenal 20-minute fireworks show choreographed to music,” he says. “It’s a fun, family-friendly community event and we’re just excited that we’re able to do again.”
Tickets for the July 4 Lake Forest Festival & Fireworks are $20 for residents of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff and $30 for non-residents (increasing by $5 after June 28) and can be purchased at lfparksandrec.com or in-person at the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation office. Tickets are limited this year due to continued health precautions and will likely sell out.