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Alpena observes gentler, simpler Fourth of July

News Photo by Julie Riddle Flag-waving walkers march peacefully through downtown Alpena Saturday afternoon.

ALPENA — Duck races, cardboard boats, sand castles, and a cheerful parade were absent in Alpena on the Fourth of July, but a gentler, simpler holiday celebration still marked a day of national pride.

Festivities originally planned for the city’s annual Independence Day celebration were cancelled in June, a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic.

Amanda Crawford, an Alpena-area native who now lives in Indiana, said she brings her daughters back to Alpena every year for the Fourth of July.

“Alpena’s like the port where people come back, visit their family,” said Roger Griffin as he and visiting friends waited for fireworks to start Saturday night. “When you miss that tradition, it’s kind of like you’re missing a piece of the family.”

The annual Alpena fireworks show, which faced cancellation itself, was saved through the financial support of a generous community.

News Photo by Julie Riddle A pair enjoys some down time on the beach before Alpena’s Fourth of July fireworks, a colorful end to a scaled-back, laid-back Independence Day celebration.

At the time the annual parade would have filled the sidewalks of Chisholm Street with onlookers, a band of around 50 people in red, white, and blue walked peacefully down the same sidewalk, waving flags and celebrating independence, to the friendly toots of a few passing motorists.

In city neighborhoods, volleyball, squirt gun battles, and cornhole games occupied many front yards, while people holding red plastic cups sat in sociable circles and chatted in driveways.

Parking lots at major retailers and grocery stores were sparsely populated, while lots near the waterfront were packed as the afternoon sun warmed bodies and glinted on the peaceful waters of Lake Huron.

As the sun lowered, couples and family groups set up chairs at Bay View Park, content to wait an hour or more for the city’s fireworks to begin.

Farther along the lakeshore, bicycles and scooters zipped between pedestrians and children wrapped in beach towels, making their way toward the larger throng of people gathered at Starlite Beach and Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Dressed for festivities, a couple of ladies step out to join the small crowd waiting for fireworks at Starlite Beach in Alpena Saturday evening.

Along neighboring streets, red-and-white-checked tablecloths held hot dogs and potato chips as more people relaxed outside their homes. Children with sparklers pranced barefoot while grownups watched from their front porches.

A woman with a tambourine led a band in laid-back outdoor music at the Hungry Hippie. Across the road, miniature golfers putted and chatted, a mother-son air hockey match stirring up laughter nearby.

The celebration had an appealing, intimate feel, according to Angela Nickell, a downstate resident in town for the Fourth for the first time.

The dark skies of Northeast Michigan, where you can see the MIlky Way and satellites passing by, are the perfect backdrop for fireworks, her husband Brian Nickell said.

Small flashes and little booms shot off from a Starlite Beach parking lot, and a few sparkles fountained near the sand. Little dogs yipped at big dogs, and kids giggled from dads’ shoulders.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Children play near the water at Starlite Beach during a low-key Fourth of July celebration in Alpena on Saturday.

On and around the beach, people sat, talked, played board games — fewer people than usual for the holiday, several people observed.

Beverly Spurgis, a downstater with a cottage on Hubbard Lake, comes to the fireworks most years and expected a bigger crowd this year.

Pandemic or no, the day had still been a good one, she said.

“We live in the best country in the world,” Spurgis said. “We should celebrate it.”

A few swimmers raced and bobbed near the shore while boats hovered in Thunder Bay, more arriving and stopping their motors as day drew closer to night.

News Photo by Julie Riddle Children wonder at the magic of sparklers outside an Alpena home on Saturday evening, shortly before the annual Fourth of July fireworks.

Many of those waiting patiently along the beach gasped and pointed as a giant, pale moon slipped out of the water on the horizon and lifted into the sky.

The fireworks show, scheduled for around 10 p.m., boomed into the sky about 10:30, preceded by a host of snaps, crackles, and pops enlivening neighborhood streets and echoing between empty downtown buildings.

Bursts of color marked the show’s beginning, and cheers from appreciative crowds could be heard a mile and a half away after the holy-cow, can’t-look-away showstopper of a grand finale.

Independence Day, said visitor from downstate Robert Woodbeck, reminds us that, even when the country is rattled by sickness and voices are raised against each other, it’s still a collection of 50 states working as one.

“Sometimes we forget that,” Woodbeck said. “Even though we’re individuals, we still agree to collaborate together to form something bigger.”

Bill Critcher, Woodbeck’s father, who called himself too old to be ruffled by recent major events in the country and world, said a scaled-back holiday is still well worth celebrating.

“It’s the birthday of the United States of America,” Critcher said. “Why wouldn’t you celebrate your birthday?

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