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4-H already planning for next July Fourth

During the past several weeks, officials at the Hernando County Fairgrounds received hundreds of phone calls from people curious about any Fourth of July activities taking place at the site.

"I received about 200 calls this year," said Evelyn Chapman, business manager at the fairgrounds. "Many were disgusted that there's nothing going on here for the Fourth of July."

That will change next year.

Plans for the a 1996 4-H Fourth of July celebration, complete with fireworks, are under way, and organizer Bill Hill is excited.

"It will be similar to the old Freedom Fest," which used to be held at the fairgrounds, said Hill, a 4-H agent with the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. "We will have fireworks, bull riding and barrel racing competitions and activities for the whole family."

The event will also feature musical entertainment and games such as tug-of-war, sack races, wheelbarrow races, a riding mower obstacle course and a lasso game. Participants will compete for trophies or prize money.

"The only difference between this event and the past Freedom Fest is that there will be a cost," Hill said.

Hill said admission prices are not yet set, but he hopes to sell advance family tickets for $25.

The event will be a fund-raiser to bring in scholarship money for 4-H programs, including the junior and senior camps held each summer. Hill said the group's largest fund-raiser, a dinner/auction held each February, brings in approximately $8,500 for scholarships, but much more is needed.

"We have one of the strongest (4-H club) foundations ever in this county," Hill said, saying the programs draw about 150 youths from Hernando, Citrus and Sumter counties. About half the children receive partial or full scholarships, he said.

Hill said money raised by the Fourth of July event will also go to projects similar to one held earlier this year when a group of 4-H youths spent a week at the state Capitol in Tallahassee.

Chapman, who is helping Hill organize the celebration, said Santore & Son from Bunnell will provide the fireworks display.

"We used them every year for the Freedom Fest," she said, "and they always did a fantastic job. There was always a lot of activity in the sky _ really something to behold."

Besides putting on a good show, Chapman regards the Bunnell company's fireworks are trouble-free and safe, unlike that of a different company that was hired for the 1991 Freedom Fest.

"Although the show was absolutely gorgeous, there was more than $10,000 in damage to autos (from the fireworks debris)," she said. "So we feel safe with Santore & Son."

To avoid any mishaps, Hill said, attendees will be able to park in downtown Brooksville and ride a shuttle bus to and from the fairgrounds, south of the city on U.S. 41.

Hill said sponsors are sorely needed.

"The (County Commission) has indicated an interest, but we have nothing concrete," he said.

Chapman said Freedom Fest died after the 1992 celebration because of lack of financial backing.

"We just hope the people of the community will support and help out," she said, "because it is apparent that many do want and appreciate this type of event. We need something to celebrate and honor the birth of our nation."

Anyone wanting information about the 1996 celebration can contact Hill at 754-4433.