After hiatus, Coralville 4th Fest returns with new spark

After last year’s cancellation, the Coralville 4th Fest 38-year celebration is back with in-person festivities, including some new events.


Jenna Galligan

Spectators watch fireworks from a Hy-Vee parking lot in Coralville on Saturday, July 4, 2020.

Natalie Dunlap and Sabine Martin

Owner of Next Generation Shows Vern Tripses and his family have been in the carnival industry for 47 years, but last year’s business was at a standstill as the pandemic raged on.

This year, festivals are back, including the upcoming Coralville 4th Fest, replacing the empty streets seen at this time in 2020.

“Lots of people went and got the vaccine, thank God,” Tripses said.

The Coralville 4th Fest began as a small neighborhood parade, but over the years it has gained events and grown into a celebration anticipated by the community. In the summer of 2020, all of the festivities had to be canceled except for the fireworks, which were held at a location where onlookers could drive up safely in their cars.

Tripses said his carnival was set to work the Coralville 4th Fest in 2020 before it was canceled.

“We did not get to go out at all last year,” Tripses said. “So far, with every event that we’ve played the crowds have been up a little bit, so people are ready just to get out and enjoy festivals again.”

Now, 4th Fest organizers say the celebration is making a much-needed comeback.

“You don’t realize I guess until it’s all taken away how important everything is to you,” said Paula Bakey, co-chair of the 4th Fest committee. “To truly appreciate your community, your neighbors — you weren’t able to see anybody, we’re able to go outside and do anything and just to celebrate our Independence Day, and just to walk around outside with other people, I think it’s even more important now that we’ve survived this.”

In its 38th year, the celebration will include traditional activities, such as the parade, concert, and fireworks, as well as new events, such as a lumberjack show and a speed cube artist creating a mural out of cubes.

“Since this is our first festival where everybody in the community will be able to come back together, we decided to add a special event on Friday, July 2,” said Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth. “We will be having a free barbecue for the community. Our police and fire departments will be cooking in the park and in addition to the barbecue, we are going to have a lot of activities.”

The Children’s Museum, Coralville Library, and Coralville Recreation Center will also be providing activities during the cookout, and a DJ will be providing music.

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“We just look at that as kind of the fun kickoff for the weekend and celebration that we’re all back, and able to celebrate again,” Hayworth said.

At the 4th Fest carnival from July 2-4, Tripses said funnel cakes and corn dogs are the “go-to” food item at the festival.

“The popular ride is usually the round-up, but we call it the black hole,” he said. “And the roll-o-plane is another one. It’s a nice tall ride, so everybody gets excited on those.”

Tripses said all of the carnival rides have been disinfected before use, which adds hours to their 24-hour setup time.

“There’s still some out there that wear the mask, and that’s okay, too. We have to sanitize, in the mornings before we start stuff, so we can keep everybody safe,” he said.

Bakey said the Coralville 4th Fest has become a destination event for Johnson County as it continues to grow.

“We’re constantly getting comments that families are staying in town over the fourth,” Bakey said. “…because it’s grown, they started planning family reunions and other events, vacations around the fourth, which I think is so wonderful for the entire community.”

The weekend will come to a close with a fireworks show. This year, the event is back in Morrison Park.

Coralville Fire Chief Orey Schwitzer is head of the fireworks committee for the 4th Fest. He said the pandemic has made fireworks hard to come by because of factories being shut down, but that the 4th Fest secured supplies earlier this year.

“The show is going to be about the same as we normally do, time-wise and number of shells, but fortunately we just happened to talk to the distributor earlier in the year,” Schwitzer said.

Hayworth said the 4th Fest has grown to be the focal event in the community.

“It’s just a wonderful time of the year,” Hayworth said. “And it’s just really exciting that we can be back together and have fun activities while paying special honor to our country.”