Rockin’ Freedom Fest Celebrated at Re-Dedicated MLK Park
by James Coulter
The City of Winter Haven celebrated both the birthday of its country and the re-dedication of a local park with its annual Independence Day celebration, Rockin Freedom Fest on Saturday.
Several hundred residents and visitors alike gathered near the shores of Lake Silver at the newly-refurbished MLK Jr. Park. The local park recently received several major renovations including a new amphitheater with restrooms and concession area, along with paths and amenities to better accommodate visitors with disabilities.
The park was rededicated earlier that afternoon with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in front of a new monument honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. along with several other local civic leaders. Having the park honored during the city’s event seemed only fitting in keeping with the overall spirit of the celebration of freedom and liberty, explained Mayor Pro Tiem Nathaniel Birdsong.
“It was a great celebration of Fourth of July,” he said. “The park needed to be revamped, and it has a total makeover. To have it dedicated on the same day we are celebrating the Fourth of July is significant because one person stood for freedom and justice for all and we know the anniversary of the USA [with] freedom and justice for all.”
During the celebration, attendees could watch a performance by the Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team, visit local firefighters and their vehicles, listen to music performed by a live band, and eat food provided by food trucks. The big finale, of course, arrivedafter sunset with the fireworks display.
Scott Eilers, Assistant Parks, Recreation & Culture Director, was overall impressed by the turnout. With the overall great weather, he could easily see nearly a thousand attendees turn out that evening, he said.
“I think it is a great event,” Eilers said. “Right now, the weather is holding out for us, which is all we can ask for. We were able to get the re-dedication in, without any issues, and it was important that we gave that rededication all the thought and dignity that it needed.”
In light of the past two years, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were excited and willing to come out that evening to enjoy the fresh air and good company. For that reason, this year’s event most likely was their biggest yet, Eilers said.
“I think people are out here and they are waiting to have a good time and ready to gather and recreate and we could not ask for a better day,” he said. “I think it [the park] is a new place for people to gather, it is a new place for everyone to gather and to come out of COVID after everyone [was] in lockdown, this is something everyone has been waiting for.”