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Benton Freedom Festival attendance down

The Benton Freedom Festival, formerly held in Bryant, has always been Saline County's largest summertime event.
BENTON, AR - The Benton Freedom Festival, formerly held in Bryant, has always been Saline County's largest summertime event.

This year, in its new location at the Saline County Fairgrounds, turnout isn't quite what organizers hoped for. The hot, dry weather and subsequent burn ban in effect means no fireworks this year, which is hurting attendance.

Game and food booths are set up, but there are no lines. The midway at the Saline County Fairgrounds is empty during the biggest event of the year, falling short of what organizers planned to be a huge success.

Benton Mayor David Mattingly says the community has been looking forward to this event. "So many people have been working very hard."

While the Benton Freedom Festival offers food, rides, games, and music, the main attraction of any 4th of July festival is fireworks. Mayor Mattingly says it's a shame the weather has been so hot. "I know that's having an effect on people."

July 3rd, the first day of the two day festival, several thousand people showed up later in the day when the weather cooled off to listen to the musical acts on two separate stages. Festival Director James Ballew says even without fireworks, there are still a lot of attractions. "I still feel like we're the largest event in Saline County. We have a small setback with the fireworks, as a lot of communities do."

Sarah Fallon says it's still a let down for her kids. "They are a little disappointed. We talked about going into Little Rock and watching those fireworks, but we’re not real sure yet." She and her husband Nathan say they won't stay at the Benton Freedom festival very long in the heat without fireworks to cap off the evening. "I'm a big fireworks person. The 4th of July not being able to shoot off fireworks at the house or anywhere else is kind of a bummer."

Mayor Mattingly says the importance of putting safety first is the number one priority. The City of Benton plans to shoot fireworks off as soon as the burn ban is lifted.
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