Over the Fourth of July weekend, millions of Americans will hit the road. And a surprising number will be heading to State College; drawn by the annual 4th Fest celebration. The day long party culminates in a fireworks show that's so big, beautiful and jaw-dropping it's been ranked third best in the nation. And each year, there's something new that makes it special.
Betsy Howell, Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Convention & Visitors Bureau says many hotels see an increase in bookings this time of year. More than 20 hotels are offering visitors the chance to get a "Taste of Happy Valley," too. Each of the hotels will provide wristbands to guests that guarantee them discounts at participating downtown retailers.
"It's to encourage visitors to extend their visit a night or two," Howell says. "Fourth Fest attracts a number of people to the area and the great thing about the event is that it changes every year. In addition to having the fantastic fireworks, they have lumberjacks coming in and the parade is growing every year."
But it doesn't appear that people are using mass transit to get here. Delta and United Airways flights are operating on a reduced schedule this week, according to Bryan Rodgers, the Director of the University Park Airport. Buses are operating on regular schedules. So where do all those people come from?
"We're pretty much a drive-to destination," she says.
As for how many people turn out for Fourth Fest each year, Howell says it can be anywhere from 70,000 to 100,000 people. State College has a population of about 43,000 people.
People like to come to State College because it's a place that welcomes a diversity of ages and lifestyles, where everyone is free to be themselves, says State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham. Plus, there's so much to do.
"There's new swimming pools and so much going on on-campus. This town celebrates the Fourth of July with it's whole heart and a fun-filled spirit."
State College can sometimes feel like a big place, Goreham says, but over the holiday, it takes on a small-town feel that is both welcoming to visitors and comforting to residents. Rain or shine, she believes it's going to be a great time.
"No matter what you're doing, everyone is just enjoying life ... it's simple. It's the essence we've got here."
Bernie Keisling, the Executive Director of the Central Pennsylvania Fourth Fest, says the allure of State College comes down to one simple thing: It's a family-friendly venue.
"It's geared toward the kids. There's so many things for a family to do together," Keisling says.