When about 20,000 people spread out over Antietam National Battlefield on July 7, many staking out a spot with a blue tarp or blanket, the park will be transformed in a way that only happens during the annual Independence Day celebration.
"It'll look like a sea of blue out there," Chief Park Ranger Ed Wenschhof said.
Preparations for next weekend's 27th annual Salute to Independence celebration are well under way at the battlefield, with workers in the midst of constructing the stage that will hold the Maryland Symphony Orchestra during the concert.
The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m., and will be followed by a fireworks show at about 9:45 p.m. As in past years, the orchestra, conducted by Elizabeth Schulze, will play patriotic tunes, including the "Armed Forces Salute" and the "1812 Overture."
Construction on the stage, which began Tuesday, takes about a week to complete, Wenschhof said.
Next week, workers will continue the preparation by painting lines to designate walkways and seating areas on the hill, and setting up food and welcome tents, as well as trash cans. About 70 portable toilets will line the sides of the field.
"It should be a big year, as long as the weather holds out," Wenschhof said. "We worry about thunderstorms. That's the biggest threat to an event like this."
Because the weather forecast is the one factor out of the control of event planners, park rangers monitor it closely on the days leading up to the celebration, he said.
"That's always the biggest worry," he said. "We watch the weather carefully, meticulously."
Attendees are welcome to set up their tarps beginning at 6 a.m. on July 7, although most people arrive at the battlefield between 3 and 6 p.m., Wenschhof said. There will be parking space in the park, as well as along routes 65 and 34 bordering the park.
He estimated it will take most people about 90 minutes to exit the event due to the high volume of traffic leaving the park at once.
Wenschhof said about 60 people, including volunteers, park staff and law enforcement officials, will be working at the event, which costs more than $100,000 to hold.
The celebration is one of the highlights of the year for the battlefield, he said. "It's always been very well-attended by the people in the community, and it's important for us at the park," he said.
By Lauren Kirkwood, The Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, via Associated Press