Fort Bragg has about 54,000 residents who are all in on a secret. They have access to one of the most relaxing, family friendly venues around.В Fort Bragg is home of the Airborne and U. S. army's Special Operations Forces but it also is home to a giant 30-foot tall inflatable movie screen that the Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) team uses to show movies on the sandy beach at Smith Lake.
Marilyn Flynn is the business manager for the Smith Lake Army Travel Campground at Fort Bragg. She and her team wanted to make Smith Lake the main destination of choice for the Fort Bragg community.
To become the main destination spot for the area, we knew we needed to offer something different, even unique, Flynn said. When we brought in the Open Air Cinema system through the GSA Schedule we brought an instant family hit that enables us to have a fun, engaging and huge program that people loveat a minimal cost.
Lakeside Movie under the Stars
The campground hosts an event called Movie Night at the Beach once a month. It is open to the public, anybody can attend, and it is free for campground customers.
We have hundreds of people who come out to Movie Night at the Beach, Flynn said. We have people from the campgrounds, on the base and even from the surrounding community join us. Before each event, we pass out comment cards to the attendees. The feedback we have received has been nothing but glowing, positive responses. The biggest critique we have is that we should have it more often than once a month, which we just might start doing.
The events are especially popular with families with children because they can sit to watch the movie or run around on the sand. The point is for everyone to simply enjoy spending time together. In fact, one of the main objectives for the movie program is to provide a relaxing venue that brings people together.
Here at Fort Bragg, it is often the case that when a soldier gets deployed, their families are left behind, she said. We feel a tremendous obligation to host activities that can bring people together with other families. Because our park is open to the general public, it helps build bridges between the outside community and the military community.
In today's economy, many families are finding it a challenge to find inexpensive activities that they can all do together--that they all can enjoy.
The size of the screen is a big drawit is so large, it can be seen from the other side of the lake. The visitors set up their towels and lawn chairs in the shadow of the screen on the beach before it gets dark. While they are lounging on the beach waiting for the move, they get to listen to music playing and watch the sun set over the lake.
It's just an amazing, absolutely beautiful setting. Flynn added. The kids come in their PJ's with their snacks and their blankets. It is such a nice, open, friendly environment that it helps people relax and feel welcome in what can be an otherwise stressful, hectic life.
The team uses the movie event as an opportunity to introduce people to the rest of the amazing facility. Visitors see the swimming area, where they rent paddle boats, canoes and other programs. It gives us a chance to talk about our campground and it opens up discussions about what else we have to offer, she said.
Logistically, the giant screen along with the audio and projection equipment, which was purchased from Open Air Cinema through the GSA, takes less than an hour to set up.
More than Movies
The value of the movie screen and system goes beyond showing movies on the beach; they have used it as a vehicle to generate revenues. We have other groups wanting to hire us to set up the movie screen for their own special events, she said. For instance the Library will hire us to set up the screen to show movies at other places around the area.
The future holds a great deal of promise for the equipment as well. The team is planning on hosting a drive-in movie at the fairgrounds and using it for a Better Opportunities for Single Service Members (BOSS) BOSS program bringing in video game competitions where contestants can play with video game characters that are 30-feet tall. Flynn is also using the giant screen in conjunction with a program called Roughing it Camp. They have guests go on a mountain biking ride, horse back ride, canoeing and a nature hike. Then the day is topped off with a movie under the stars.
Some creative thought by the team at Fort Bragg in combining natural resources with a growing trend in outdoor entertainment has provided the community with a family-friendly venue where they can relax, unwind and enjoy the North Carolina evenings.