- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fourth of July celebrations were in full swing on the Mall on Saturday as revelers poured into the nation’s capital for the annual festivities that culminate with a massive fireworks display, while smaller groups in the District and across the nation marked the holiday by speaking out against higher taxes and federal spending.

The warm weather and the fact that the holiday fell on a Saturday this year likely contributed to a higher number of visitors, said Sgt. David Schlosser of the U.S. Park Police; however, the Park Police does not provide crowd estimates.

“We expect a good-size crowd,” he said, noting that the day had been “smooth sailing” with perfect weather.

This year, checkpoints screened visitors only between about 14th Street and the Lincoln Memorial, Sgt. Schlosser said. Elsewhere, police will use different methods - from high-tech to manpower - to monitor the crowd.

“We can create a more open atmosphere without decreasing our security posture,” he said.

The atmosphere near the Capitol, however, took on a political tone with a midday “Tea Party” rally, where protesters gathered to hear speakers from conservative grass-roots groups such as American Majority, Americans for Limited Government and the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights.

It was just one of many Tea Parties held today across the nation to protest what organizers say is record federal spending and taxes by the Obama administration that enlarges government and threatens the nation’s prosperity.

“A lot of [protesters’] efforts are being focused toward local political activity, targeting Congress on certain votes in the House and Senate,” said Adam Bitely, director of new media at Americans for Limited Government.

The first round of Tea Party protests was held April 15 - tax day. Those nationwide protests drew more than 600,000, according to organizers, and it was yet to be seen how Saturday’s gathering would compare.

For those heading downtown for the July Fourth events, the Metrorail system was bracing for its first major event since the deadly crash on its Red Line on June 22. Metro ran trains on the Red Line at normal speeds, except in the area where the accident occurred.

Early in the day, Metro saw the greatest number of riders exiting at the Navy Yard, where the Washington Nationals faced off against the Atlanta Braves.

The good news for revelers is that authorities left open the Smithsonian station, which serves the Orange and Blue lines and had been closed in recent years during July Fourth events owing to security concerns.

Tom Cannata, 44, and wife Lisa, 44, rode the Metro’s Orange Line in from Vienna to the Foggy Bottom/GWU stop.

They exited with their three sons, intent on wandering the National Mall. Mrs. Cannata said the ride “was great.”

“Fast. Easy. Everybody was organized,” she said.

The family, originally from Chicago, moved here a short time ago and said they were excited to come see the fireworks for the first time.

Metro had asked riders to use stations farther from the Mall to avoid crowds. They anticipated about half a million riders - a light number compared with the 750,000 to 800,000 commuters the system carries every weekday, said Metro spokesman Steven Taubenkibel.

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