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McHenry's Fiesta Days offers free refreshments to designated drivers

McHENRY – Chris Mackie had never been to Fiesta Days in McHenry before bringing his 14-year-old daughter and her friend to the carnival Saturday afternoon.

The Woodstock resident, however, sat across from his wife at a picnic table in Petersen Park with a promise to be responsible wrapped around his left wrist.

Although the white beer tents lend to the concert atmosphere of Music Fest at Fiesta Days, the festival’s committee has included an extra incentive for about a decade to ensure that more attendees act responsibly with alcohol – specifically, looking for volunteers to remain sober during their stay.

The Designated Driver Booth, which Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital sponsors, offers free water and soft drinks to attendees who are age 21 and older and choose to remain sober and responsible throughout the four days of Music Fest, said Jeff Kleinschmidt, the entertainment director for Fiesta Days.

“I think that’s fantastic, promoting safe driving and making sure everyone gets home safe at the end of the night,” Mackie said.

Individuals not buying or consuming beer are eligible for the program, which is designed to ensure people enjoy and leave the festival safely. A big ice cooler of water, soda and Gatorade adjacent to the beer ticket tents keeps designated drivers hydrated for free while they enjoy the musical acts.

“It gives them a reason to stay there, make sure someone gets home safely,” Kleinschmidt said. “It’s been really well accepted.”

Fiesta Days Director Richard Paegelow estimated that about 3,500 people had attended since the festival began Thursday night, but water and rain caused some problems in Petersen Park.

Paegelow said he was told that about 50,000 gallons of water had been pumped out of Petersen Park after rain earlier in the week flooded the concert area.

Paegelow said he also expects a larger turnout Sunday for Music Fest Family Fun Day, which offers free admission from 1 to 6 p.m. and additional activities and entertainment, such as inflatables, face painting, a dunk tank, games and prizes.

Some Fiesta Days organizers also are keeping an eye on the rising of the Fox River as McHenry and Kane county residents prepare for what could be historic flooding. Gov. Bruce Rauner declared McHenry, Lake and Kane counties disaster areas Friday afternoon as officials warned of the potential for record flooding.

Todd Lowenheim, a Fiesta Days organizer who has lived along the Fox River in an unincorporated area near McHenry since 1989, said he pulled his boat out of the water Wednesday and now can only see the top canopy for his boat lift.  

“You could watch the water rise from my yard,” Lowenheim said, adding that he has exchanged texts with neighbors scrambling to fill sandbags as water levels continue to rise.

For local residents looking to take a break while bracing for the floods, Fiesta Days runs until July 23.

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