Southwest Florida goes patriotic: All the events you need to know about

Fourth of July events abound

David Marlett congratulates fellow contestant John Atamian for his win in the hotdog eating contest. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

David Marlett congratulates fellow contestant John Atamian for his win in the hotdog eating contest. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Fireworks are launched from the Johnson Bros. barge, borrowed from the Jolley Bridge construction work. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Fireworks are launched from the Johnson Bros. barge, borrowed from the Jolley Bridge construction work. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent
Marco Island celebrated Independence Day 2011, with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather.

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent Marco Island celebrated Independence Day 2011, with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather.

This  impromptu eating contest features Terry West, Connie Rawlins, Renee Ollmer, and Nancy Phillips. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

This impromptu eating contest features Terry West, Connie Rawlins, Renee Ollmer, and Nancy Phillips. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Angelo and Maria Deftereos proudly fly their flags. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Photo by LANCE SHEARER

Angelo and Maria Deftereos proudly fly their flags. Marco Island celebrated Independence Day with beach picnics and fireworks at Residents' Beach on July 4th, with happy throngs enjoying perfect weather. Lance Shearer/Special to the Eagle

Firework over Residents Beach on Marco Island, July 4, 2011. Photo by Donald Pecora.

Firework over Residents Beach on Marco Island, July 4, 2011. Photo by Donald Pecora.

Fun, family festivity abounds throughout the region, from the Star Spangled Bonita celebration at Riverside Park to fireworks cruises in Naples and a hot dog eating contest on Marco Island.

On Marco Island, Uncle Sam's Sand Jam kicks off at noon with children's activities, old fashioned games, crafts and face painting. A hot dog eating contest is sure to attract a large crowd to witness this competitive gluttony.

Families and friends flock to the beach early to secure a spot for fireworks, and many spend hours sculpting sand into sea creatures or patriotic masterpieces for the annual sand sculpting contest, sponsored by the Marco Island Civic Association (MICA).

"They start coming early in the morning, setting up umbrellas, and everyone gets to see each other," said MICA Executive Director Ruth McCann. "It's just a great community event celebrating the Fourth of July."

Reminder: Parking and access is restricted to members at Resident's Beach.

The Estero Historical Society invites citizens to remember why we celebrate with a public, participatory reading of the Declaration of Independence.

"The Declaration is the formal explanation of why Congress voted to declare independence from England more than a year after the start of the Revolutionary War," explains Jean Pryal, the Society's vice president. "It contains 27 grievances the Colonists had with England's King George from taxes to inciting Indian attacks on frontier settlers."

Signing the Declaration was considered an act of treason, Pryal added. The Society is inviting members of the public to join in reading this historic document and discussing the fate of some of its notable signers at 10 a.m. from the deck of the Society's historic cottage in Estero Community Park.

Another long-standing tradition is the old-fashioned Independence Day Parade. Themed floats, vintage automobiles, groups of marchers and a few animals will stroll through the main streets of Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers Beach and Sanibel Island. Everglades City had its parade and fireworks early, on Saturday.

Bonita's Independence Day parade dates back more than 50 years. With a theme of "Shine a Bright Light on Our Community," this year's parade kicks off at 9 a.m. along Old 41, ending at Riverside Park.

Historically, the parade has featured several horses, and this year should be no exception. Mayor Ben Nelson notes Buffalo Chips Restaurant owner Al Greenwood always has the honor being last in the parade -- and cleaning up the "chips."

Bonita's Star Spangled celebration continues with some throwbacks to years gone by, including a revival of the Bed Race. The event kicks off at 4 p.m., with teams racing custom-built twin beds on wheels. A "driver" rides on the bed while four friends push.

"It's probably been 15 years," mused Nelson, attempting to recall Bonita's last Independence Day bed race. His father owned the local hardware store which always sponsored a bed racing team.

This year, Nelson will serve as a judge for the event, which is sponsored by the Bonita Springs YMCA.

"We want to reach out to the community and share our principles of working together as a team, plus this has got a fitness element to it," explained YMCA Advisory Board member Jack Brown. "We're really excited about it. It's going to be lots of fun."

Also new this year, the city has introduced the Cupcake Wars, sponsored by the Zonta Club. Bakers of all ages and experience levels may enter a dozen of their most impressive cupcakes, which will be judged in six categories, including one for children.

Nelson was asked to be a judge but declined. "I was disappointed to learn Cupcake Wars was eating them and not throwing them," he joked.

Hotdog, ice cream and watermelon eating contests will take place at 6 p.m. The mayor's favorite part of the day-long celebration is the evening of live music -- headlined this year by Deb & the Dynamics – along with the fireworks and laser light show, powerfully illumining the night sky over a packed Riverside Park.

"That is such a great party, and there's such a feeling of community pride," Nelson said. "It really makes me proud when we do the Fourth of July in the park."

Naples also has a full lineup of Independence Day activities, starting with a Firecracker Run sponsored by Gulf Coast Runners at 9 a.m. from Fleischmann Park.

The city's traditional parade kicks off at 10 a.m. The route encompasses Broad Avenue South, Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South. This year's parade will feature about 100 participants, 25 floats and various giveaways like sunscreen, flags and assorted treats. About 10,000 spectators are expected to come out, said city spokesperson Valerie Lewandowski.

"It's fun to see everyone's spirit, all dressed up in Fourth of July attire," she said.

Shops on Fifth Avenue will be holding a sidewalk sale from noon to 10 p.m., and fireworks will be set off from the Naples City Pier at 9 p.m.

Many boaters choose to watch the brilliant display from the water. Pure Naples and the Naples Princess both will be offering special cruises July 4. A Fireworks Cruise aboard the M/V Double Sunshine sets sail from Tin City at 7:30 p.m. and includes hors d'oeuvres, a beverage and a sweet treat for $60.

The Fourth of July Cruise aboard the Naples Princess luxury yacht includes a buffet dinner, and "Music to Watch the Fireworks" piped throughout the vessel. The patriotic tunes on WAVV 101.1 FM are synchronized with the city of Naples fireworks display. The $125-per-person cruise benefits the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra's youth programs.

Miromar Outlets also will offer some pre-Independence Day blasts with its annual fireworks show on the lake, scheduled for July 3. The Lee Memorial Bloodmobile will be stationed near the Reebok Outlet Store from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Children's activities start at 5 p.m., including face painting and a bounce house. The Push Band will provide live music beginning at 5:30 p.m. Bring a lawn chair and stake out a spot early for the fireworks show at dusk.

The Fort Myers Miracle also will celebrate Independence Day with fireworks after its home games at Hammond Stadium on June 29 and July 3.

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