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Thousands gather in Oak Harbor to celebrate Independence Day
Dave Cadwell couldn’t have scripted a better Fourth of July.
He grabbed a patio chair from home and sat comfortably on the side of the street, wearing a straw hat with two small American flags poking out from the sides.
Under almost perfect weather conditions, he enjoyed a front row seat of Oak Harbor’s Fourth of July parade with the city marina and Puget Sound serving as a backdrop.
He figures it was the 10th Independence Day parade he’s attended since living in the waterfront town.
“I grew up in Southern California where everything’s big and busy,” said Cadwell, a school bus driver for the Oak Harbor School District. “This is kind of why I like to live in Oak Harbor. I don’t think I’m ever going to leave.”
Oak Harbor’s 2013 Fourth of July celebration might serve as the blueprint for years to come.
Not only was the weather ideal with sunshine and temperatures in the mid to upper 60s, the thousands of visitors downtown enjoyed more entertainment options this year, which kept the masses around for a while after the grand parade ended.
The day was capped by a captivating fireworks show witnessed by a huge crowd at Windjammer Park under cooler temperatures and a cloudless sky.
The firework show’s grand finale drew loud cheers at 10:45 p.m., culminating a city celebration that had begun roughly 12 hours earlier with a grand parade.
“That was nice, huh?” Craig Devonshire told his family as they hurried to their car to beat the rush after the fireworks. “It gets better every year.”
The party wasn’t over.
Oak Harbor’s skyline continued to light up with fireworks through the night and fireworks could still be discharged in Island County until July 5.
The carnival at Windjammer Park remains open through July 7.
Some familiar sights and a familiar face were missing from Thursday’s celebration such as a Navy flyover and Oak Harbor mayor Scott Dudley.
The Navy jets weren’t scheduled this year because of federal cutbacks due to sequestration. However, there was a strong presence from Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.
Participating in the parade, while standing in the backs of pickups, were Capt. Michael Nortier, base commander; Capt. Darryl Walker, deputy commodore of the Electronic Attack Wing; and Capt. Edward D. Simmer, commander of Naval Hospital Oak Harbor.
Dudley missed Oak Harbor’s celebration because of a family emergency out of state.
Oak Harbor’s grand parade featured a mix of dignitaries, pirates, color guards, business representatives and election candidates. Longtime Oak Harbor resident Ron Wallin, owner of P&L General Contractors, was the grand marshal.
For the third year in a row, the parade traveled the new route that bypassed the historic downtown core along Pioneer Way, instead veering down Bayshore Drive until reconnecting with Pioneer Way for the final stretch.
To lure visitors to the historic downtown, new attractions were featured along Pioneer Way after the parade.
The new events were a hit.
Crowds came to Pioneer Way to watch the first patriotic Pet Parade, a fire juggling entertainer and an apple-pie bake-off.
The one-way portion of the street was closed for 12 hours to vehicle traffic to allow for those and other kid-friendly events such as coloring the sidewalks with chalk.
The pet parade was a brainstorm from Kathy Reed, director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, and was organized by Charity Hamilton, owner of WatchDawgs Grooming and Boarding.
The inaugural event was wildly popular, drawing 50 dogs and a brown rat named Splinter.
The dogs paraded down Pioneer Way with their owners, while the rat remained in a small travel case carried its owner, 3-year-old Natalia Samaras.
Prizes were awarded for the cutest dogs and ones with the best costume based on the volume of crowd cheers. Tiny dogs, including two Yorkshire Terriers, wound up being the crowd favorites but that didn’t seem to faze one happy hound in particular.
Penelope June, a Bluetick Coonhound, could be heard howling and was seen licking the faces of every dog it encountered.
“She bays really loud,” said owner Jessica Moldenhauer.
Another popular attraction was a fire-juggling street performer.
Marcus Raymond, a professional entertainer who recently moved to Oak Harbor, drew large crowds and laughs by juggling fiery torches and even placing them into his mouth.
He also managed to free himself from a straight jacket and chains. All the while, Raymond spewed a steady stream of jokes that drew laughs.
“Stay in school!” he contantly shouted to the crowd.
While Raymond put fiery objects in his mouths, others had it much easier at the nearby apple pie bakeoff.
The judges were Jill Johnson, Island County commissioner; Lance Gibbon, Oak Harbor School District superintendent; Sonna Ryan, owner of The BBQ Joint on Midway Boulevard; and Cecil Pierce, commander of VFW Post 7392
“It was the best job here,” Ryan said.
Pieces of the pie were sold, raising $80 for local food bank Help House.
The first-place winner was Oak Harbor’s Joanne Lightfritz, whose apple cheesecake caramel streusel-topped pie graded the highest among the many mouth-watering entries.