Petal, H'burg join together to host ‘Bridging the Leaf’By NIKKI SMITH,
Petal and Hattiesburg will be joining other Pine Belt entities when the Fourth of July rolls around.
A fireworks extravaganza, Bridging the Leaf, is set for Tuesday, July 3, at both the Petal River Park on the east side and Chain Park on the west side of the Leaf River.
While still nine months down the road, preliminary plans call for vendor booths, both food and beverage, entertainment, games and a fireworks show set to music at dusk.
During Monday’s meeting of the Forrest County supervisors, Petal Area Chamber of Commerce Director Valerie Wilson and Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association Director Andrea Saffle asked the board to get on board with both cities as a presenting sponsor.
The estimated budget for the event comes to around $30,000 with both cities and the county being asked to contribute $6,500 to at least cover the cost of the fireworks show, which will have a stage on each side of the river.
“This is a joint venture of the City of Hattiesburg and the City of Petal and we’re inviting Forrest County to be a part of it,” said Saffle.
“We want to come together for a celebration of our nation’s birthday with a fabulous fireworks display. Our goal is to draw visitors from surrounding counties to Petal and Hattiesburg and provide a family-friendly festival for residents of both cities, Forrest County and outlying areas.”
According to Saffle, more than 16,000 Americans celebrate the Fourth of July with firework celebrations across the country, which makes a sizeable economic impact on the communities which host them. She said research shows that 43.6 percent of Americans watch fireworks or participate in community celebrations with 44 million people traveling 50-plus miles to attend these type of events.
“It’s a great opportunity for Hattiesburg and Petal, but we’re also looking for things to help promote Chain Park and Petal’s River Park,” Saffle said. “We believe this is a way to bridge the two cities together.”
Wilson urged board members to not look at this as a one-time event, but rather a pilot program or explorative event to see how both cities can utilize the Leaf River.
“It’s one of our greatest assets and we don’t feel we utilize it enough,” Wilson said. “This is a way to look and see how we can promote what’s there, using size, the magnitude of the event as well as the economic, tourism and social aspects of the project.”
“It’s our cities andcounty working together to doing something really spectacular,” Saffle added.
“We look at this as a way to promote and bring attention to both areas (Chain Park and the Petal River Park) to help grow them and become an economic boost for the county itself.”
Supervisor Chris Bowen questioned the reason for holding the event on July 3 rather than July 4.
Saffle said they didn’t want to impose on other such shows in the area – Paul B. Johnson (held on July 4, Temple Baptist, Sunday before 4th and Little Black Creek, Saturday before 4th).
“We don’t want to take away from the others,” she said. “And we wanted Petal and Hattiesburg to have their own celebration.”
Wilson also spoke to the fact that because it’s not a holiday, city and county workers who might be needed to work the event wouldn’t require overtime pay. “It will be easier on everybody’s budget not having to pay overtime,” Wilson said.
The board voted to give $5,000 to the project.