Good Life

Karl Libhart prepares to paint the skies for Independence Day

As the new executive director of the Central Pennsylvania 4th Fest, Karl Libhart will oversee his first festival and fireworks show.
As the new executive director of the Central Pennsylvania 4th Fest, Karl Libhart will oversee his first festival and fireworks show.

You always remember your first time.

Karl Libhart is celebrating his inaugural year as the executive director of Central Pennsylvania 4th Fest, the annual Independence Day celebration that is known for having one of the better fireworks displays ever to grace the summer skies.

Still, Rome wasn’t built in a day — neither was America, for that matter. Libhart and his team spent the better part of a year planning two days of unabashedly patriotic fun on Sunday and Monday at University Park.

Below, he talks about some of the challenges of celebrating the home of the free in style.

Q: What’s your oldest memory from 4th Fest?

A: I remember watching the aerial displays from my apartment in Boalsburg in 1999 right after I had returned to the area.

Q: When do you start the planning process for 4th Fest?

A: We are actually doing informal planning for 2017 now as we learn from our successes and mistakes. We officially start the process in September when we wrap up our fiscal year and set budgets for the new year.

Q: How many volunteers are typically required?

A: We usually have between 550 and 625 volunteers depending on the day of the week the Fourth falls. About 40 of those are engaged throughout the year.

Q: Is there a guidepost or mission statement that you look to each year while your planning this? What’s the most important thing to keep in mind?

A: Volunteers are dedicated to work year-round and organize what has traditionally been a patriotic, family oriented event designed to serve local businesses and residents of central Pennsylvania. The most important thing to keep in mind is that our forefathers made our freedom and liberty possible by making extreme sacrifices and dying for this country.

Q: What is the most challenging aspect of the festivities to organize or arrange?

A: We like to say that “many hands lighten the load,” which means that every challenge is met by a group of people who share the responsibility. Our pyrotechnics team negotiates prices for the fireworks and orders them from China. That team also selects music and scores the choreography. Celebrations team contracts amusement rides, entertainment, food, kids’ activities and special events. Operations works with Penn State to make sure our infrastructure is in place and can handle the crowds, traffic and services. They also manage and organize the parade. Security makes sure that all of our guests are safe and secure whether they are at the carnival, the parade, the fireworks or in between. MarCom designs our logo and theme, places the media, schedules interviews and publicity and manages our website and social media. And (the) fundraising (team) connects with the local business community to gain support through sponsorships. The challenge for me as executive director is to keep everyone moving in the same direction.

Q: Are you trying to top yourself with the fireworks show year after year? How would that even be possible at this point?

A: We like to keep it fresh with a few surprises moreso than topping ourselves.

Q: Not including 4th Fest, where and when were the best fireworks display that you’ve ever seen?

A: New York City on the East River.

Q: What’s one little known or often overlooked aspect of 4th Fest that people should be sure to try?

A: If you haven’t seen the fireworks from our VIP viewing area, don’t miss it. You’ll be so close you can feel the heat on your face and the concussion in your chest. The aerial displays look like they’re coming straight at you.

Q: Who will be featured in the Parade of Heroes?

A: Our Heroes committee is still working to finalize the list. Each Hero has touched the lives of others in our community. We will feature between six and 10 Heroes this year.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

On the web

For a full schedule of 4th Fest events, visit