CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - This year, you can find the fun of the Freedom Festival behind gates. And to get in, you've got to pay. Those six and up have got to buy a three dollar button to access the primo seating for fireworks, the attractions, and the vendors located on the downtown bridges.
It's a first in the festival's 30 years. Organizers said the fee was prompted by higher costs for everything from fireworks to security, and new amenities like big screen monitors and fresh attractions.
"Most people don't realize that the Freedom Festival is not part of the city. We are our own non-profit organization. Therefore we have to raise our own funds through sponsorships and button sales to keep the festival going," said Freedom Festival Executive Director Robyn Rieckhoff.
The public is giving mixed reviews. Marg Ruppert worries the new fees might be too much for those with little.
"For poor people to come down here, they don't have much money. And if they can't even get across a bridge without paying-- I think that's pretty sad," said Ruppert.
Robin Derlein has another opinion. She's happy to pay three bucks to help the non-profit create a better festival.
"Three bucks is not a problem. That's not even a gallon of milk," said Derlein. "There's a lot of things to do in this area, so I don't have a problem with that."
The fee is certainly up for debate, but it doesn't seem to be stopping people from coming out.
"Attendance is up. This year at balloon glow we had about 15,000 people. That was probably up by about three thousand from last year," said Rieckhoff.
Officials said for those who didn't want to pay the three dollar fee to watch fireworks, there was space on sidewalks and grassy areas outside the gates, but still near the bridges.