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South Salt Lake's Freedom Fest has come a long way

SOUTH SALT LAKE -- The City of South Salt Lake will celebrate its annual Freedom Fest Saturday with a parade, food, exhibits, entertainment and fireworks.

“Our city is on the move to great things and the Freedom Fest is a wonderful celebration of the many great aspects of South Salt Lake,” said Mayor Cherie Wood. “It really brings the community together."

The annual parade begins at 9 a.m. at 2280 South 300 East and ends at Fitts Park at 3030 South 500 East. The Freedom Fest continues that evening at the old Granite High School campus located at 3300 South 500 East.

The evening will be filled with live music from groups like the Red Desert Band and Crash Pontiac as well as performances by a children’s choir, the Aztech Dancers, Rythmaires and more.

Food vendors will include a wide variety from funnel cakes and corn dogs to a taste of Polynesia and pizza. The night will culminate with a fireworks show at 10 p.m.

“This event has really grown into a major community celebration,” said Wood, a lifelong resident of South Salt Lake. “It has really come a long way.”

Former fire chief Steve Foote remembers what the city’s celebration was like in the mid-1970s.

“Back then, the event was nothing more than a small parade that was 90 percent fire trucks and 10 percent bikes with crepe paper streamers,” he said. “The Lions Club would do a breakfast and a small carnival of sorts was held at the fire station/city hall.”

Foote says that in the early days the fire department did it all under the enthusiasm of Fire Chief Robert Adams.

Even when the fireworks came along a few years later, which were originally held at Central High School at 3000 South 200 East, it was the fire department that launched those.

“For some reason they thought since we could put fires out this somehow made us qualified to shoot off high explosives,” Foote said. “We had no idea what we were doing and it showed. One by one we would light them off and the finale was just a bunch of us firefighters lighting off several single one shot mortars at once.”

Under Mayor Jim Davis, Freedom Fest steadily grew, but it was when Randy Fitts was elected mayor in the 1990s that things really took off. Fitts loved fireworks and expanded the show and put it under direction of pyrotechnic professionals. The little carnival was moved to Central High and held in conjunction with the fireworks night.

The annual celebration outgrew its space at Central High and moved to the Granite High School campus. Fitts began to fund a city recreation department and hired Bart Walker to help, which greatly increased the professionalism of the events.

Under the next mayor, Wes Losser, Ted Williams was hired to help promote the event and crowds of 20,000 were not uncommon by the time Bob Gray took over as mayor.

Bruce Shoemaker was coordinating music to go with the fireworks, and Freedom Fest became one of the best attended summer celebrations in the Salt Lake Valley. With it traditionally being held on the Saturday before Independence Day, it did not conflict with as many similar events throughout the county.

Charee Peck is the assistant mayor of the City of South Salt Lake.