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Jul. 2—ANDERSON — Across the country and in Madison County, Fourth of July celebrations this weekend promise to be saturated with special meaning as the U.S. continues to progress toward an effective return to normalcy after more than 16 months of coronavirus pandemic turmoil.
President Joe Biden has pointed to July 4 as a target date in the nation's recovery, and federal, state and local officials are cautiously encouraging get-togethers to mark the holiday.
"As a community, we have come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic," said Elwood Mayor Todd Jones. "We are starting to see things returning to normal."
Jones pointed to the availability of vaccines as a key factor in people feeling more comfortable at large gatherings. For his city and several others, that threshold was crossed around Memorial Day weekend, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased recommended mask-wearing restrictions for fully vaccinated people and state and local health agencies followed suit.
The Elwood Optimist Club's annual Community Fireworks Celebration is set to return, as is the city's annual Glass Festival in August.
In Anderson, the city's annual summer concert series has been in full swing since early June, and Anderson on Tap, in its sixth year, drew a large crowd to Dickmann Town Center as it returned to its customary June spot on the calendar. Officials say the turnout for those events, along with what Mayor Tom Broderick said are increasing numbers of customers returning to downtown restaurants and bars, indicate that residents are ready to resume normal after-hours entertainment activities.
"It gives them more appreciation of what we took for granted in the past," Broderick said. "I think that'll make us more aware of the good things in our lives as we go forward."
Anderson's annual Independence Day celebration will be somewhat muted this year, as planners opted to forgo the downtown parade in favor of a family-friendly event Saturday at Athletic Park. It will feature carnival games, bounce houses, food trucks and a climbing wall. Broderick said uncertainty over the pace of vaccines in January led to the decision to scale down the event, but he remained confident that it will draw a large crowd.
"We wanted to make sure that we could do something that would give folks that feeling of normalcy again," he said. "Things have gotten better and better, so consequently this is working out to be good timing."
Similarly, Harrah's Hoosier Park Racing & Casino's signature Fire It Up on the 4th event will look a little different this year. With the holiday falling on Sunday, the emphasis will be on the facility's live racing card, with a disc jockey and musical entertainment between races. Choreographed fireworks will cap off the evening after dark.
Despite the changes, Hoosier Park officials have been looking forward to the holiday weekend as an opportunity to savor a taste of post-pandemic activities with minimal concern for mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines.
"We've continued to try to cautiously plan safe events, and I think this is another example of that," said Trent McIntosh, senior vice president and general manager at Hoosier Park. "We're going to have more of a sense of normal (at) Hoosier Park. This really will be our first coming out party, to some degree. I think we're ready to take another step forward."
Chesterfield's popular Fourth of July parade will be back this year with modifications — specifically, no water balloons or water guns will be allowed — and organizers are also planning a pancake breakfast in the morning. After a slow start attracting parade entries, town officials saw a significant uptick this week.
"Most people, if the attendance is down, it'll probably be because of the way the holiday falls," said Chesterfield Clerk-treasurer Deborah Dunham. "I think a lot of people will be going camping and doing things they haven't been able to do."
Dunham said a fireworks display is planned for Friday night. With the town's parks and splash pad operating at full capacity, a sense of optimism among residents that the pandemic's darkest days are past is growing.
"I think we've come full circle," she said. "We may not really know what it's going to be, but we have to get back to some normalcy at some point."
Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.