It's a national celebration of community, and across Washington County preparations for taking part are being made for the fifth-annual "Night to Unite," which takes place on Tuesday night.

It's a chance for neighbors, at least once each year, to get together, connect and get to know one another a little better. The object is fun, but also to make communities a little safer, said Gail Griffith, community service officer with the Cottage Grove Police Department, which has a tradition of strong participation in Night to Unite stretching back to when it was formerly known as the National Night Out.

During the evening, those involved in law enforcement and emergency services also typically make the rounds to the parties, sharing information and just getting better acquainted.

"We've been doing this a long time, at least 20-plus years," said Griffith, who coordinates the festivities in Cottage Grove. "The value is, it brings neighbors together, and it forms a good relationship with the Public Safety Department as well."

Busy schedules often don't allow neighbors to interact as much as they'd like to, she said. An evening of lighthearted mingling pays real dividends in creating safer communities.

"Neighbors who know one another are quicker to call when something doesn't seem right," Griffith said. "It's a big help to us when neighbors talk to each other and kind of watch over their own neighborhood."

Last year set a participation record in Cottage Grove with 37 block parties, and this year 35 had been registered as of last Wednesday.

Here is a roundup of what's happening Tuesday night across the county:

Bayport: Join the Police Department for an evening of festivities from 5 to 8 p.m. at Lakeside Park. Meet and greet city staffers, residents and business owners. Featured events include a helicopter fly-in, beanbag and softball toss, youth jumper, limited food and beverages and a raffle at 8 p.m.

Birchwood Village: Plan a picnic or gathering with your neighbors for that evening. Contact Capt. Julie Swanson of the White Bear Lake police (651-429-8552) to sign up your neighborhood or to learn where the closest gathering will be.

Cottage Grove: The event from 6 to 10 p.m. is sponsored by the Cottage Grove Department of Public Safety and the Cottage Grove Crime Prevention Board. Citizens are encouraged to join the fun and plan their own neighborhood block party. Activities include police officer and squad car visits, firefighter and fire truck visits, McGruff the Crime Dog and visits to block parties from police dogs, the mayor and City Council members. There will also be a hula-hoop contest and quick CPR training.

As is tradition, the community also will be collecting school supplies to fill backpacks, which will be donated to the Friend in Need Food Shelf, and diaper bags and baby supplies, which will be collected for the Tubman domestic abuse center.

Forest Lake: In 2012, Forest Lake hosted a record 23 block parties, and the Police Department is hoping to exceed that number this year. Like previous years, the block parties are being asked to collect nonperishable food to donate to Community Helping Hands. Call 651-209-9919 for information.

Hugo: A Community Night Out is planned from 5 to 8 p.m. at Lions Park. Free hot dogs, pop, treats and games will be provided, and donations will be accepted for the Hugo Food Shelf.

Newport: A gathering is planned from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Newport Lutheran Church, 900 15th St. Activities include equipment displays, visits by personnel from the police and fire departments, food, children's games and community organization displays.

St. Paul Park: A variety of activities and food for the whole family are planned from 6 to 8 p.m. at Heritage Park. For more information, call 651-459-9785, ext. 112.

Stillwater: The Stillwater Police Department will be celebrating from 5 to 9 p.m. in Washington Square, 801 Greeley St. S. Highlights include police officers with equipment, firefighters and fire trucks, Lakeview EMS and ambulance, a canine demonstration and National Guard members with a Humvee. There will also be free snow cones, games and prizes. For more information, or to register your own block party, contact officer Andrea Olson at 651-351-4926 or e-mail

Woodbury: This year, the city is encouraging residents to host block parties with a common theme: "Get to Know Your Neighbors." Visits from public safety personnel will occur between 6 and 8:30 p.m., as time allows.

Elsewhere: Sheriff's deputies will be visiting other communities, including Lake Elmo, Mahtomedi and Scandia.