The Fourth of July in Government Information

Today I take up Beth Harper’s challenge to find government information related to my day! Friday is the Fourth of July, and with all the festivities around town, there is plenty of material from all levels of government.

First thing in the morning, I will be bringing my son to his last day of day camp, called Fish, Paddle, Play. Camp is held on a local lake with a park connected, so the first thing I thought of was the Parks Department. Their website offers information about city parks including the rules, hours of operation, and permit information. We don’t own a boat, but should we ever buy one we could also find information about getting a lake access permit for the season from the parks department.

Since fishing is a big part of my son’s day camp, I can go to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website to get information about fishing permits (as it turns out, my son does not need one, since he is under 15). The lake he will be fishing in is in the city, and may not be as clean as one might wish it were. To find out about the water quality in the lake where my son will be paddling and fishing, I can find the DNR’s Lake Monitoring Reports for Dane County online.  Reports for some lakes go back to 1980. The reports from the other 71 counties can also be found on the DNR website. If I need help interpreting these very technical reports, I can turn to a publication by UW-Extension, called Understanding Lake Data, published in 2004. Although all the fishing my son and his camp buddies will be doing is catch and release, if I wanted information about the safety of eating different fish, I can look at another page on the DNR website, Eating your catch – making healthy choices . On the federal level, NOAA also has a website about fish, Fishwatch: U.S. Seafood Facts, which provides information about fish and fishing, as well as buying and eating seafood.

After I drop my son off at camp, I will head home, where I will help my daughter decorate her bike for our neighborhood bike parade. Again, the parks department plays an important role here. I was not on the committee that planned the parade, but I know somebody needed to get a permit and arrange to have the street closed briefly for the kids to have their parade. The shelter at the park provides a great location for serving food, soda, and even beer. Information for reserving the shelter and a list of parks where alcohol is not permitted can also be found on the City of Madison Parks Department website.

I also know that safety is important. For information about bike safety, I can turn to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. They also cover the rules of the road for bikes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also has a website with bike safety information. When most people think of bike safety, the first thing they think of is the helmet. But how important are helmets, really? When I was a kid, nobody I knew wore a helmet while riding their bikes. Going further into the DOT website, I found this piece of information: “Every bicyclist wearing a helmet correctly each time they get on a bicycle can help prevent more than 85% of head injuries when crashes do happen.” Clearly, helmets are important and really do reduce serious injuries from bike accidents.

Since our neighborhood Fourth of July celebration includes food, I wondered what the government might have to say about food safety. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has a web page devoted to Summertime Food Safety Precautions . The U.S. Department of Health and Social Services has an entire website devoted to food safety, with its own separate domain: www.foodsafety.gov. Keep those mayonnaise-based salads cold, people!

Each participant in our little bike parade will get a small American Flag. In fact, the Fourth of July is probably the one day of the year when the American flag is seen the most. What is the proper way to display, store, and retire an American flag? This 17-page report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service (available on the U.S. Senate website) provides you with everything you need to know: The United States Flag: Federal Law Relating to Display and Associated Questions.

Last, but certainly not least, while we’re celebrating Independence Day, what (other than delicious grilled food and red-white-and-blue desserts) are we really celebrating? USA.gov has a page with information about the Fourth of July, including a links to the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents. The page also includes information about fireworks safety and fireworks laws in the states, as well as other summer safety information.

I feel like I have only scratched the surface of the amazing volume of government information relating to the Fourth of July. There is so much valuable information available, it would be impossible to collect it all in one blog post.

So, who will take the Government Information Challenge next? Comment below, or write your own blog post to take the challenge!

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