Summer fun is a yearlong effort

A little girl sitting in the dunking booth, people throwing balls at the target on a sunny day
Fourth of July is full of fun, and a little dunking.

t’s January and commercial districts manager Eric Milliron is already thinking about summer. Lining up vendors for the Uptown Market and scheduling performers for First Fridays is a right-now priority, even though the events are almost half a year away.

Simultaneously, recreation program manager Pat Cannon is beginning to pull together the 13 summer camps Mt. Lebanon offers for youngsters. And he’s already started organizing the Fourth of July celebration, Mt. Lebanon’s unofficial community day.

“That’s a 16-hour day, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.,” said Cannon. “I put 18 miles on my FitBit, 40,000 steps, in 90-degree weather.”

Mt. Lebanon offers a wide array of activities for children and adults throughout the warm summer months. But before the large crowds gather for music, dancing and good eats, staffers from nearly every department spend months preparing and planning to make these events a success.

“It’s almost a year-long process,” Milliron said of the market. “To maintain the quality and variety of vendors that we have, we need to maintain good relationships—and that means year-round.”

Every event is truly a team effort, including support from the municipality’s police, fire and public works, with an assist from Medical Rescue Team South Authority (MRTSA), who do everything from providing security and emergency personnel to setting up for the various events.

“It’s teamwork,” Milliron said.

A party in Uptown

People shopping at a farmers market, sunflower, strawberries and apples sitting on a table to be sold.
Crowds gather at the Uptown Market for fresh eats every Saturday through October from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Uptown Market opened in May and runs every Saturday through October, from 9 a.m. to noon along Washington Road.

Prep work started for Milliron and market manager Carla Clipper at the start of the new calendar year. The Uptown Market is a joint venture between the municipality and the Mt. Lebanon Partnership.

“At that point (in January), we are soliciting vendors,” Milliron said. Some vendors, like Simmons Farm, have been with the market since the beginning. But organizers are constantly working to add more quality vendors for the market, which has been in existence for more than 15 years.

“It’s quality over quantity for us,” Milliron said. “We want to have a great variety.”

For Milliron, the goal is to bring people to Uptown through events like the market and First Fridays. He wants to see more people frequent the Uptown businesses. That is achieved by getting more people to come to the business district.

Each year, the market grows in size.

“The goal is that people recognize how great the community is. People come up here to buy carrots, but they stay for the community,” Milliron said.

The market includes a non-compete clause to ensure that vendors don’t conflict with Washington Road business owners. So you won’t see florists or coffee vendors at the market, since Uptown’s business district already offers those choices.

Milliron and Clipper spend months fielding questions and reviewing applications. Vendors can apply for the entire season or sell their goods for one day.

In May, Clipper and Milliron map out the site and do a walkthrough, although things change from week to week. The second Saturday of the month is always a special market, with artists, crafters and music.

When it comes to organizing First Fridays, Milliron again focuses on quality. As a musician, Milliron doesn’t want just any old band playing at the municipality’s big concert series.

a band playing for a group of people
First Fridays are a great start to the first weekend of June, July and August.

“I’m looking for talent,” he said. Sometimes, he’s attending an event and hears an exceptional band, as was the case with blues and soul guitarist Byron Nash, who is appearing at the July 7 First Friday, his second straight summer at the Washington Road street party.

“They were just absolutely mind blowing,” said Milliron. “I immediately went up to him and said ‘Man, you’re incredible. Would you come play in Mt. Lebanon?’”

Other times, residents call and recommend a band. If it’s classic rock, it’s probably not the right fit for First Fridays. Milliron is looking for unique performers.

“It’s really about moving the crowd and attracting residents,” Milliron said.

Sometimes, artists will appear multiple times. Milliron bases that on the number of calls he receives after a performance. If there’s more than one call praising a particular band, he knows it was a hit.

Milliron also looks for variety. For several years, he’s been looking for a mariachi band to perform. But he hasn’t found one in the area. This year, however, he was able to secure the Polkamaniacs.

The goal of First Fridays is for adults and youths alike to have a blast.

“It’s a party. We’re trying to make it fun,” Milliron said.

Celebrating Red, White and Blue

Inflatable rides and a bungee jump setup in a parking lot, crowds of people standing
Planning for Mt. Lebanon’s Fourth of July celebration begins shortly after New Year’s Day.

While Milliron is busy getting ready for Uptown’s big events of the season, Cannon is preparing for all the fun the warm weather brings to the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Center. He organizes everything from summer camps to the summer concert series, the dive in movie at the pool and the big Fourth of July extravaganza.

“There’s so much going on at one time,” he said.

Early in the year, Cannon starts by lining up vendors for everything from the petting zoo to the kiddie train for the big Independence Day celebration. Each must have its own certificate of liability, and Cannon is in charge of making sure that happens.

Aside from the mounds of paperwork, Cannon is responsible for getting more than 50 high school age students to work the roughly 20 game booths. And while he’s doing that, he’s also lining up the roughly 25 community and food vendor booths.

people sitting on folding chairs in a football field in the evening watching a burst of fireworks going off in the distance.
Mt. Lebanon’s Fourth of July celebration always ends with a bang.

Talking with Cannon about the process, it’s clear he has everything down to a system after many years of organizing it. He almost makes it sound easy.

About seven staffers from the recreation department do the bulk of the behind-the-scenes work on the day of. Public works crews set up the games and handle garbage collection. Firefighters are onsite to oversee the fireworks and even organize an activity, setting up a play space for kids to put out pretend fires. MRTSA provides emergency support, along with the Mt. Lebanon Police Department.

“On the Fourth of July, you get to see everybody. It brings all ages together,”

Cannon said. “You have the little ones on the bounce house or train ride and their grandparents are there watching them.”

The one thing Cannon and his team can’t plan for is weather. He tells stories of times when Mother Nature simply didn’t cooperate and threw a curveball at summer activities.

“That’s a big one,” he said.

Wind conditions can impact fireworks, as can rain. One of the biggest issues with programs like the summer camps is in case of a rainout, rec department planners need a backup location to take the kids so they don’t have to cancel.

Some days, the gyms at the schools can be a backup for traditional summer day camp. But it depends on the schedule.

The heat also can be an issue.

“We have to make sure everybody stays hydrated,” Cannon said.

Play time

Young boys standing next to a helocopter, while the two female pilots stand in front of the helicopter in a parking lot
Public Safety Camp is always a blast. It fills up fast.

One of the biggest tasks of the summer is preparing for summer camps, which target kids between kindergarten and 15 years old.

“The minute the school calendar is approved, that’s when I start planning,” Cannon said.

Camps typically start the week after school lets out with the Players Soccer Camp and Summer Art Camp.

a boy kicking a soccer ball on a field, a soccer goal in the background.
Games abound at Mt. Lebanon’s summer camps.

Cannon reaches out to coaches and independent contractors who run the various camps throughout the summer. They provide the curriculum and Cannon handles the logistics.

This year’s six-week summer playground camp goes from June 12 to July 28 and is hosted at four schools: Lincoln, Jefferson, Foster and Markham. Kids can sign up for one or all of the weeks.

Cannon oversees the hiring of camp counselors, mostly high school and college students, and four camp supervisors, all of whom require background clearances, which adds yet another time element to the process.

Each week, the camp has as many as 220 kids participating.

three little girls being lead by an adult woman camp counseler
Summer camps are where it’s at for the kids and teens alike.

The school district runs on a four-day work week in the summer, which means finding another activity for Fridays. Cannon plans a Fun Friday Field Trip,  taking the kids bowling, or to the movies, or finding some other fun way to spend a Friday.

The bulk of planning is done between April and June.

Each year, Cannon likes to keep the traditional camps, while looking for new camps to add. This year, he added a chess camp to the mix.

As with every other event, summer camps require teamwork among municipal departments. The Mt. Lebanon police and fire departments, along with MRTSA, even host their own public safety camp each year, which has proved to be one of the most popular summer programs the recreation department has to offer. As with nearly all of the summer camps, if you see a sign-up go up, register your child quickly.  You snooze, you lose.