- Associated Press - Sunday, July 3, 2016

LENA, Miss. (AP) - For nearly 40 years, the tiny town of Lena has hosted a Fourth of July celebration that brought thousands of visitors. But this year’s may be the last.

“”It’s been a good time, but we’ve just run out of steam,” said the Rev. James Milner, who started the festival at Lena United Methodist Church 39 years ago.

That year, people brought homemade ice cream to share and set off 400 firecrackers strung between trees.

These days, thousands of visitors show up each year for an antique car show, music festival, contests including tug of war, sack races and a watermelon-eating competition, and fireworks. The town of about 150 is spending $11,000 on this year’s fireworks.

But people tell The Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/29mj8ot ) that the number of volunteers for what the town calls Lena Day is dwindling, and there may not be money for a show next year in Lena, about 40 miles from Jackson.

Sheriff Greg Waggoner, who has patrolled the event more than 15 years, says the usual crowd has been in the range of 4.000 to 5,000 people. In recent years, competition from fireworks shows at casinos and the Ross Barnett Reservoir has cut down to the lower thousands.

Until last year, Lena Day volunteers cooked and sold hamburgers, barbecue chicken, hot dogs, cotton candy and freshly squeezed lemonade among other products to fund the annual event, but the rising cost of food has halted that effort. In 2015, they stopped selling lunches and invited food vendors, who pay a charge.

The mayor and Board of Aldermen hope to save the event by setting up an auxiliary fund through which the city can apply for grants and accept donations for Lena Day.

Milner, now in his early 80s, moved on long ago to other churches but returns each year as the event’s master of ceremonies.

“My prayer has always been that somebody would pick it up and run with it,” he said.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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