07-05-2018 Firecracker of a festival headlined by heat; annual Watervliet Independence Weekend had

Firecracker of a festival headlined by heat; annual Watervliet Independence Weekend had plenty of events

By Kristie Noack

Watervliet hosted their annual Independence Day celebration last weekend and the new events, which included the cutest baby contest, foam pit, and carnival rides, shared the stage with one other dominating factor: the oppressive heat.

Temperatures for the three-day celebration topped out in the mid- to high 90s, but it was the heat index that was the talk of the town. From Watervliet Business Association members who volunteered their time to kids climbing the rock wall to the Great Lakes Rodeo Cowgirls’ horses, everyone was covered in a sheen of perspiration.

THE ROCKETS RED GLARE… Fireworks lit up the sky over Watervliet Saturday night and made a beautiful backdrop for Veterans’ Park downtown. (Photo by Marge Yetske)

Overall, attendance was down at the festival and organizers summed up the cause in one word: heat. The heat index climbed Friday and Saturday so that the air temperature felt like it was 104 degrees and warmer.

Despite the heat, though, plenty of folks made it out to celebrate America’s Independence.

The fun started Friday with numerous events including the return of the Elkhart Garden Tractor Pull and decorated golf cart parade. North Elementary hosted the golf carts and scooters, and it was Judy and Loretta who won with their “Fishing in Paw Paw Lake” theme.

Carnival rides returned to Main Street, and a couple of new events were held Friday as well. The inaugural Little Red, White, and Blue crown went to Preston Tyler, who is almost two years old. His mom shared that he “loves dinosaurs” and little Preston roared to the crowd.  Elody Long, 18 months, won the Baby Independence crown. Organizer Liz Eggert said, “This is a fundraiser for the Watervliet Business Association, and every donation goes right back into the Independence festival.”  Other participants in the contests were Renly Lopez, Penelope Hunt, Mia McLaughlin, Avery Stroud, and Korbyn Poole.

Independence Pro Wrestling also returned Friday, with action in the squared circle at the Main Street tent.

SO MUCH FOAM!! Charlotte Stotmeister, 7, has absolutely the most fun beating the heat Saturday in the foam pit. Stotmeister said, “It feels great! And, it’s really fun! And, I get all straight A’s in school!” (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

The kiddie parade also returned to the festival, with Anna Layer as organizer. All participants received a ribbon. Entries ranged from Lady Liberty Lyla Current to Ava Thomas, 8, from Sister Lakes riding a bicycle decked out in red, white, and blue to kids driving battery operated power wheels.

Down at the old paper mill site across from Hays Park, visitors enjoyed “Cars” from their own vehicles as the committee added a drive-in movie night to the festival line-up.

Saturday was chock full of things to do in both the city and township. The Watervliet Municipal Airport held their annual steak fry and fly-in, while Arclight Brewery played host to the annual car show for veterans.

North Elementary was the launching and landing site of the Gene Bednarowski 5K walk and run. The overall winner of the 5K run was Nicholas Watson, who didn’t seem to let the heat bother him as he raced the course in 17 minutes. Nada Kramp won the 5K walk. Additional winners and race information is included in the Press Box column.

The Watervliet Fire Department served up delicious pancakes, and popular Kids Zone returned. Kids Zone featured a rock climbing wall, face painting, and inflatables all for free!

A new addition to the festival was the foam pit, a large tarped area that held a multitude of bubbles. The kids raced around dunking, splashing, and trying to catch bubbles. “It’s so fun!” was overheard several times.

Little Miss and Mr. Firecracker 2018 were crowned Saturday morning under the Main Street tent.  Charlotte Weber and Bradyn Fuller joined the Miss Watervliet royal court after being selected as the winners. The two little ones were joined onstage by Miss Watervliet Ellie Troyer, First Runner-up Livia Boughner, Second Runner-up Zoe Smith, and Miss Congeniality Courtney Little.

Early afternoon, as the sun continued to blaze against a blue backdrop of sky, the grand parade down Main Street was held with Grand Marshal Mark Bolin leading the way. Best Entry, Children was won by the 2018 Watervliet 8U All-Star softball team. The Judges’ Choice award went to Jack Hess who entered three vehicles: a Rolls Royce golf cart, a Japanese mini truck, and 1955 Chevy Bel-Air.

Hartford won the Best Float category, and Hartford Speedway’s entry featuring eight stock cars won the Best Entry, Non-float category. Most Patriotic was won by the tribute truck of Jim Hammond.

Judges for the parade were Dave Scheuer, Nikki Needham, and Samantha Kableman.

LITTLE MISS AND MR. FIRECRACKER CROWNED… Charlotte Weber and Bradyn Fuller were crowned 2018 Little Miss and Mr. Firecracker Saturday morning under the Main Stage tent. The two joined the Watervliet court of honor which includes 1st Runner-up Livia Boughner, Miss Watervliet Ellie Troyer, 2nd Runner-up Zoe Smith, and Miss Congeniality Courtney Little.

The Great Lakes Rodeo Cowgirls held a demonstration and ran drills with their equine pals at the old paper mill site despite the heat. The group did have to take a short intermission to cool off the horses but displayed some impressive barrel racing skills.

More wrestling was on tap Saturday as well as the IPW group held their championship matches. Following the horsing around, the Mudd Run kicked into high gear as gobs of dirt were sent spinning into the air. Trucks and four wheelers made their way through the muddy trenches in front of excited fans.

Across the street at Hays Park, your hometown Hooterville Hitters faced off on the diamond against the House of David Echoes in a vintage base ball game.  Thanks, in part, to the Echoes’ generosity, the Hitters won the game 8-6 in a heat-shortened five-inning contest. Game details are available in the Press Box column.

The star of the festival, the fireworks show, lit up the night with blue, red, and white dazzlers dancing across the sky. Hays Park and the old paper mill site were filled as people scouted out their spots.

Following the fireworks, Big Ben and the Burly Boys played live music from the Main Stage.

BEST FRIENDS ALREADY… Little Red, White, and Blue Preston Tyler shares a hug with Baby Independence Elody Long Friday night after the duo were crowned in one of the festival’s newest events: the Cutest Baby contest. (TCR photo by Kristy Noack)

The festival wrapped up its three-day run Sunday with a well-attended breakfast at the airport. Attendance was even better at the ping pong ball drop as kids clamored to seize as many ping pong balls as they could.  Ping pong balls can be redeemed for prizes at various locations throughout town.

The final event of the festival was the fabulous duck run. The rubber duckies were dumped into Mill Creek. As they made their way down the chute, lucky duck number 260 purchased by M. Garnett won the $1,000 prize. That ticket was sold at Watervliet Hardware.

Nichole Fox, Katrina Krieger, Tyler