Apalachicola’s Independence Eve Celebration is set to kick off on Saturday, July 3 at 6 p.m. at Riverfront Park.
As the area’s largest summer event, the festivities attract locals and visitors from all over the Forgotten Coast and beyond. Admission is free, and lawn chairs and picnic blankets are welcome.
Live music, food trucks, and the singing of the National Anthem will all be part of the festivities. The featured entertainment, The Apalachicola Blues Authority with Bernard Simmons, will take the stage at 6 p.m. In addition, a cappella performances of patriotic music will be given by Cameron Casey, Grace Lengacher, and Gordon Adkins as part of the program.
Taking the stage at 8:20 p.m. will be this year's veterans tribute speaker, retired Rear Adm. Paul A. “L.J.” Sohl, a native of Waterloo, Iowa. He holds a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master of science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Stanford University.
After he received his commission through the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps, he was designated a naval aviator in 1988, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1993.
Sohl served operationally with Strike Fighter Squadron 113, the “Stingers,” based in Lemoore, California, aboard USS Independence where he deployed to the western Pacific during Operation Desert Shield. He later deployed to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
Sohl’s acquisition tours include military lead for the F/A-18 Hornet production line at Naval Aviation Depot, North Island, California, and executive assistant to the Joint Strike Fighter program director, Arlington, Virginia. His commands include executive officer and commanding officer, Fleet Readiness Center Southeast, Jacksonville, Florida; and wing commander, Naval Test Wing Pacific, Point Mugu, California.
In July 2016, Sohl assumed the position as commander, Operational Test & Evaluation Force in Norfolk, Virginia. His personal awards include the Legion of Merit (three awards), the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and various unit and sea service awards.
Picnics are welcome, and there will be a lineup of food trucks, recruited by Main Street’s Promotion Committee Chair Susan Oakes. “Our food court is going to be packed with delicious options. We have local and regional food vendors coming, and they’re all excited to be part of this,” she said. “We’ve also added a new option for boxed barbecue dinners that can be pre-ordered from local caterer Brett Gormley and picked up at the event.”
Just after dark, the area’s biggest fireworks show will be launched from a barge in the Apalachicola River, creating a spectacular display of lights reflected in the water.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive as planning for this event has progressed. People are really ready to come together,” said Apalachicola Main Street Board Chair Jim Bachrach. “We’re looking forward to celebrating our independence as a community.”
The event could well be Apalachicola’s largest since the pandemic, and some aspects of the gathering will be modified. For example, the ice cream social and indoor art activities have been paused for this year.
“We would like to thank everyone in advance for their understanding,” said Apalachicola Main Street Executive Director Augusta West, “We’d also like to remind everyone that although masks are not required, they are encouraged. We are also providing a cleaning crew to sanitize the public restrooms and tables in the food court throughout the event, as well as handwashing stations and hand sanitizer stations.”
Representatives of the Florida Department of Health in Franklin and Gulf Counties will be on site to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to the public.
On Sunday, July 4, from 8 to 10 a.m., a downtown cleanup hosted by Apalachicola Main Street will help make a clean sweep of downtown after the celebration. Helpers will meet at Riverfront Park, and trash bags and gloves will be provided.
The celebration has earned a Florida Main Street award for outstanding special event, and been named one of the Top 12 Independence Events in Florida. The festivities are 100 percent financially supported by businesses and residents across the Forgotten Coast community and beyond. For more information, the event schedule, participating food trucks, photos, and more, please visit www.july3fireworks.com.
Augusta West is executive director of Apalachicola Main Street, a non-profit organization established in 2011 as part of the Florida Main Street and National Main Street networks. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (844) 272-2523.