Seward tradition keeps growing

Preparation key to successful holiday events

Posted: Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Seward's Independence Day celebration falls on what could be for many this year, a four-day weekend. Each year, the picturesque town on the shores of Resurrection Bay swells from its nearly 4,000-person population to almost 10 times the size.

So, how does a small community accommodate a big-time festival atmosphere that has in the past included upward of 40,000 people?

"It takes hundreds of hours of preparation," said Helen Marrs, executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce.

The Seward chamber has been sponsoring the race -- which officially began in 1915 -- and much of the surrounding regalia for the past few years, and Marrs said the entire event has been a boon for the local economy.

That reward, however, doesn't come easily.

"It is, of course, big for the merchants and businesses of the area," Marrs said. "We don't put on this event because it's a big money maker. We do it because it is tradition. But with the influx of people comes a lot of work."

City Clerk Jean Lewis said with the holiday falling on a Thursday, more people could be attracted to Seward.

"Sometimes, with the Fourth being midweek, we could get less people or we could get more," she said. "I would guess people would just take Friday off for the weekend."

She said the public works and utility departments will help to set up electrical outlets and disposal space for the many vendors arriving to sell their wares. Extra emergency personnel will be on hand to help direct traffic, rescue injured people or for security. And additional campground attendants will be working to check late-arriving campers into area campsites.

"Other departments are picking up slack and helping out," Lewis said. "We're doing an influx of business licenses (for vendors)."

Rescue workers will be perched along the 1 1/2-mile trail of the Mount Marathon race to respond to any sort of medical situation that arises. Fire Chief Dave Squire said he hopes they aren't needed, however.

"I hope we don't have to go up," he said. "I got a request out to other peninsula fire departments for medical and emergency personnel because we're expecting a larger crowd.

"If it's nice on Thursday, we will be inundated with people on the mountain. It's usually not the runners that get hurt, it's the spectators."

The Seward Police will have extra personnel on duty, and have hired Seward prison guards to bolster the security force.

Alaska State Troopers also will be on hand to assist with emergency situations.

First Sgt. Charles Tressler said troopers will patrol on bicycle with Seward police, as well as along the Seward Highway, headed into town. He said the goal is to prevent death over the weekend.

"Basically, you need a complement of troopers to deal with the volume of people there," he said. "What we would not like to deal with are fatality accidents.

"Of course, there's going be alcohol involved, so we could deal with anything from the stupidest little arguments to big fights."

Karin Sturdy, director of parks and recreation for Seward, said some changes to the city's regulations could curb drunken behavior in the campgrounds where many people will stay.

"The campgrounds are dry now," Sturdy said. "It's really much more of a family Fourth of July feeling than there was three or four years ago."

Marrs said some of the locals choose this time of the year to take their vacations, however.

"It's sort of a love-hate relationship," she said. "A lot of people leave town."

Sturdy said there will be those who decide to leave following the race. She said organizers have scheduled events to encourage them to stay longer, with the hope that everyone will enjoy themselves.

"The fireworks show is at midnight on the Fourth," she said. "A lot of folks tend to peel out of town after the senior races, but we don't want them to."

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