VIDEO FROM SATURDAY'S FESTIVAL AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE
Natalie Cruz, in town to visit her mother, was impressed with Columbia’s St. Patrick’s Day festival.
“You guys do it right. You close down the whole area,” said Cruz, who along with her mother, Darlene Iacovoni, watched the parade from the bottom of Devine Street on Saturday morning.
A first-time festivalgoer, Cruz was in town from Pittsburgh, Pa., visiting her parents and had even gotten up early to run the “Get to the Green 5K.” Having been to her share of St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Pittsburgh, Cruz was impressed by Columbia’s turnout.
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“And there’s something for everyone here,” she said.
Among the more than 40,000 people who attended the St. Patrick’s Day Festival in Five Points, Capt. Dave Navarro with the Columbia Police Department probably had the most impressive view.
From 40 feet up inside one of two “skywatch” towers, Navarro could watch festivalgoers milling around on the ground just below – or in any direction, for that matter.
“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” said Navarro, as he looked north toward Devine Street through a pair of binoculars.
From the tower’s vantage point, Navarro could see the parade, which had been going for about a half-hour, snaking its way down Devine Street toward Harden Street.
“And down there, on the corner of Greene and Harden, where the stage is set up, is where it gets very crowded,” he said, pointing out the tower’s other window facing south. “But with binoculars we can be right there.”
Made of gleaming white metal and steel, the towers were new to the festival this year and were already getting a lot off buzz. Navarro said people had been stopping by the department’s booth all morning to ask about it.
“They like it,” he said. “We’ve had so many people to stop and say, ‘Wow, you really have done everything you can to make this a safe event.’”
The towers were on loan from Fort Jackson, which uses them to monitor traffic entering the base. For Saturday’s event, the police department used them to monitor crowds, assist or direct officers on the ground and help keep an eye on situations where trouble might be brewing.
“If we have a lost child, it’s so much easier to look for that child from up here,” Navarro said.
To access the tower’s cab, Navarro simply turns a key to make the cab rise or fall in a sort of crane-like action.
Each tower comes equipped with sirens, spotlights, a weather monitor, computer screen and even air conditioning. In addition to binoculars, a camera mounted to the top of the 5-by-5 cab can rotate 360 degrees, offering on-screen views of what’s happening down on the ground.
“It’s a sense of security to the public, without a doubt,” Navarro said. “I think it will be something that we’ll continue to do.”
Back on the ground, a sea of green had already swelled to line either side of Devine Street.
At a comfortable 64 degrees, the St. Patrick’s Day parade started off the morning with a lot of enthusiasm but by noon, the sun was definitely out as the mercury had already climbed some 12 to 15 degrees.
Off came the hoodies and jackets and out came the sunblock and hats as the 30th annual St. Patrick’s Day festival got under way. But that’s OK, as many in the crowd said – the beer was flowing.
On the opposite side of the street from Cruz and her mother was the Pierce family, enjoying their annual outing to Five Points for the festival.
Two-year-old Sequoia Pierce got scooped up by a Chick-fil-A cow. The toddler seemed thrilled by his “cow hug” but ran back to join his father, Josh, his mother, Renee, and 4-year-old sister, Willow.
“They make it very family-friendly,” Josh Pierce said. “Especially in the morning. (That) tends to be more family-oriented.”
Pierce said the family usually walked from their home off Cambridge Lane near Five Points, but this year decided to drive and park near the children’s carnival at Martin Luther King Park, since they were walking in the race and would be hauling equipment.
So far the family had enjoyed the bounce house and the ferris wheel.
“It’s everything that you would normally find at the fair but everything is child-size,” he said. “It’s a great idea. Whoever put this together does a good job catering to not only adults but those with kids as well.”