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Area Fourth of July festivities celebrate our freedom

Updated: 2013-07-05T14:45:30Z

By ROBERT A. CRONKLETON and BRIAN BURNES

The Kansas City Star

With one hand on the handlebar and the other holding his mother’s hand, 4-year-old Ethan Smith slowly pedaled his tricycle down Main Street in Independence on Thursday.

“It’s a long way,” the boy told his mother, Beth Smith of Independence, during the 12th annual Kids Parade, which ended at Independence Square.

It was one of many events that area residents reveled in on a pleasant Independence Day. Before fireworks capped off the night, thousands flocked to festivals, concerts and other events from Longview Lake to Fort Osage to Parkville to Corporate Woods.

Ethan, who had American flags hanging from his handlebars, was determined to finish the parade, even if it meant walking partway.

“He just wants to get some fireworks afterward,” his mother explained. “I told him if we did this, we would buy some fireworks.”

As she sees it, the parade is a way to connect with and be part of the community. And celebrate.

“The Fourth of July is more than just fireworks,” said Daniel Huffner, who attended the parade with his wife, their four children and two other family members. “The main thing is to celebrate our freedom.”

In Prairie Village, families did that by flocking to VillageFest.

Olathe’s Kathy Fitzmaurice watched her 8-year-old daughter decorate a Statue of Liberty crown.

“I gave her the choice of having some pie or crafts,” Fitzmaurice said. “She, of course, chose crafts.”

The festival is a great way to bring families and communities together, she said.

“When you go to the fireworks show, you are sitting in the dark and you don’t have much of a chance to interact,” she said.

This festival, in its 17th year, featured events such as train rides, pony rides, face painting, human hamster balls, crafts and a zip line.

Those driving into Corporate Woods about 4:30 p.m. for the 22nd annual Star Spangled Spectacular saw a sure sign of a holiday: plenty of empty parking lots.

That would change before dark, said Andy Heath, the event chair.

“Last year, the police said every single parking space was filled by 8:30 p.m.,” said Heath, a member of the Overland Park Rotary Club, an event sponsor along with Corporate Woods and the city of Overland Park.

Heath expected more than 50,000 guests by the time fireworks began at 9:40 p.m.

By late afternoon, guests already were staking out choice spots. Among them was Steve Stoskopf, who had spread out several tarps and blankets in anticipation of up to 25 Leawood neighbors joining him.

The event long has been a family tradition, Stoskopf said, with its combination of music, food and fireworks proving a powerful attraction for his four children.

“There have been a couple of years we’ve gone to another venue, and it just wasn’t as good,” he said.

At Longview Lake, Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders invited a few friends and neighbors over for the second Jackson County Fourth of July Celebration.

“This is our little backyard picnic,” Sanders said.

Last year’s picnic attracted just over 19,000, Sanders said. By 7 p.m., he said, about that many had arrived for the privately funded event.

“This is beyond our expectations,” he said.

First they endured traffic gridlock on Raytown Road, where many southbound drivers ultimately jumped the curb and crossed the grassy median to get in.

“We thought we had overprepared for traffic control,” Sanders said. “But we’ll take a hard look at it for next year.”

Among the many veterans in the crowd was Jim Davis, scheduled to be among those veterans honored on the main stage. Davis, chairman of the county’s citizen complaint commission, wore his “Coast Guard Veteran” cap, which already had prompted one picnic goer to come up and shake his hand.

“That’s why I wear the hat,” said Davis, “so veterans can greet each other.”

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com. To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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