Veteran’s Day celebrations kick into high gear this weekend with the 16th Annual Emporia Freedom Fest this Saturday at the All Veteran’s Memorial, 931 S. Commercial St.

As with past years, local and statewide organizations such as Gravel City Adventure & Supply Company, Dynamic Discs and the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of Kansas have banded together to provide a full slate of competitive events. This year’s schedule includes the 5K/1 mile Freedom Run/Walk; 16-mile and 40-mile Gravel Rides; the Kansas Proud 10-mile Run and 12-mile Ruck March; and the “Will to Win” Spur Challenge. Those interested in participating are encouraged to register at emporiafreedomfest.org while spots remain.

Check-in for most events will run from 8 - 9 a.m. at the memorial. The disc golf tournament will have 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. check-ins depending on the competitor’s chosen round time.

“We’ve added some additional military endurance items this year with the ruck march,” Emporia Main Street Director Casey Woods said. “This will also be the fifth year of our Spur Challenge event, which is the only civilian version of the challenge in the world.

“We also have — what I consider to be — some of the best trophies of any event in all of Emporia. They take actual pieces of military vehicles and equipment out to Flint Hills Technical College where they’re welded into one-of-a-kind art pieces for the top winners in the 5K.”

In addition to the events, plenty of family-friendly entertainment will be located throughout the block from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. After the opening ceremony at 8 a.m., visitors will be able to view several military-themed displays, including exhibits on mounted calvary, combat vehicles, unmanned aircraft and even bomb disposal robots. A climbing wall, jousting pit, patriotic face painters, food vendors and live music from the 1ID Military Band will serve to round out the list of attractions.

“It’s really a day of super fun activities where we’ll have everybody from small kids to some retired veterans that just want to come out, look at the vehicles and talk with other veterans ...” Woods said. “As the founding city of Veteran’s Day, I think we have a greater responsibility to do more for veterans. Not only do we have all the events that honor those people, but we have the interactive events so people can get a tiny bit of that military-esque experience for a portion of the day.

“The fundraising aspect is another major reason to have something like this. We can not only aid in the buildout of the All Veteran’s Memorial, we can do other things like supporting scholarships for those local, active-duty veterans and military officials or for their kids. This year is also our launch of the soldier care package project. A lot of people can say they support the military and support veterans, but the unique thing about Freedom Fest is that it gives people the opportunity to honor those people through service.”

Beside proceeds from the events, additional donations will be taken at locations throughout the Freedom Fest area. More information on supported causes can be found at emporiafreedomfest.org/media. Woods also encourages those looking to get involved in veteran outreach to actively search for upcoming volunteer opportunities through Emporia Main Street. The organization can be reached at emporiamainstreet.com or by calling 620-340-6430.

“Volunteers make Freedom Fest what it is, and we’re always looking for ways to get people involved in Main Street activities,” Woods said. “We’ll have opportunities to get involved with the veteran’s banners and the soldier care packages that are part of an overarching suite of activities we have as an organization to make sure we’re doing what we can do as the founding city of Veteran’s Day to lead by example.”

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