AMESBURY — For nearly half of the 234 years since 13 small colonies declared independence from their British overlords, Amesbury has been the forerunner for local Independence Day celebrations.
"It's a big deal around here," says Amesbury Days president Raymond Shockey about the midsummer holiday.
Shockey is not sure if the annual Amesbury Days — which is in its 111th consecutive year — always focused on July Fourth, but ever since he moved to Massachusetts from Connecticut in 1997, the nighttime explosions have been an integral part of the town celebration.
The 2010 budget provided $20,000 for the event this year, much of which funds the fireworks.
"The fireworks are down-scaled slightly since last year," Shockey says. "But it'll still be a hell of a show."
Before the climatic finale tomorrow night, diverse activities — from an early-morning pancake breakfast to a family carnival and live concerts throughout the weekend — shape Amesbury's multi-pronged approach to celebrating Independence Day.
"Family-friendliness will be there as long as possible," Shockey says. "It has a good community feel to it."
Sgt. Craig Bailey, an Amesbury native who now polices the town, has seen thousands flood the town's countryside every July and expects more than 10,000 to come to this year's celebration.
Twenty officers on foot patrol, mountain bikes, motorcyles and police cruisers will operate the Lion's Mouth Road area throughout the evening.
To counter the surplus of traffic flow, closed roads and detours should be expected.
"They've done this for years and years, and they do a good job with it," says Shockey about the Amesbury Police Department, which will be managing the traffic and crowd control.
Starting at 7 p.m, only inbound traffic to the fireworks site will be allowed until the parking lot fills.
At 8:45 p.m, whether the parking lot is at capacity or not, Lion's Mouth Road will close completely until the conclusion of the fireworks around 9:30.
After the road closes, however, visitors can park at Amesbury High School, which is only about an eighth of mile from the firework display, Bailey says.
Starting at 9:30, Lion's Mouth will reopen, with traffic directed only northbound. A right-lane exit directs cars toward Amesbury and New Hampshire while the left-lane exit heads back to Route 110 and Interstate 95.
Bailey asks for preparedness and patience.
"It does get a little gridlocked, but be patient," Bailey says. "The traffic will flow smoothly."
With complete cooperation, the Police Department expects it can clear the entire crowd in less than 30 minutes.
"They're confident it's going to work fine," Shockey says.
A special section of the parking lot is now designated for handicapped patrons watching the display. Located just below where the fireworks will appear in the sky, the area allows handicapped visitors to not even leave their cars, Bailey said.
The strategic placement of the handicapped spots also allows disabled patrons to exit the lot first following the firework display.
The townwide party moves from downtown Amesbury to Woodsom Farm on Lion's Mouth Road at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow to accommodate the kids carnival, three concerts and the grand finale fireworks show.
Local musicians such as cover band Audio Rush and reggae group Third Real also provide a regional draw to the town's celebration.
"It was difficult to provide music every day," says Shockey, who hopes to experiment with different types of groups in upcoming years. "But the bands are fun and interesting."