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The Fourth of July is coming, and Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam is happening. In fact, the Sand Jam IS a happening, a blowout celebration when all those still on Marco Island for the summer are likely to be found near the water’s edge for a daylong celebration, a party that ends with a bang as the fireworks display explodes over the Gulf.

Sand Jam festivities are headquartered at Residents’ Beach Park, where San Marco Road meets Collier Boulevard and the Gulf of Mexico, and Residents’ Beach is the domain of MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association. Beach parking, which is always an issue on Marco Island, becomes much less vexing during the summer months, but the Fourth of July marks a major exception.

Ruth McCann, executive director of MICA, made the point in a recent conversation that parking at Residents’ Beach, and indeed entrance to the park, is limited to Residents’ Beach members, who by default are members of MICA. With 7,600 family memberships at Residents’ Beach, and approximately 360 parking spaces, the numbers add up to a traffic jam to go along with the Sand Jam. The organization does have a longstanding agreement with San Marco church to help deal with overflow parking, said McCann.

But the reason parking becomes problematic on the Fourth is the tremendous popularity of the Independence Day celebration at Marco’s beach, and this patriotic holiday is an important touchstone for the city, said McCann.

She pointed out that MICA wrote out a major check to the city, donating $5,000 toward the cost of putting on the climactic fireworks display. With the MICA contribution and others, the goal of $26,000 from the private sector, to match the funds appropriated by city government, was reached.

“Fourth of July on Marco is a massive event. It draws the entire community together,” said McCann. “We’ll be there all afternoon and into the evening. The DJ starts at noon, and the kids’ games start at 1p.m.”

The Paradise Grill snack bar will be in full swing, with beer and wine added to the offerings for the first time this year, along with the extensive menu of burgers, hot dogs, chicken, shrimp, and salad. Of course, many families will bring their own food and drink, and the beach equivalent of tailgating will have picnics up and down the water’s edge, and under the many chickee huts on the lawn behind the beach.

With nearly 8,000 members – approximately another 250 pay the $35 annual MICA membership fee but not the $140 for Resident’s Beach parking – MICA has a major influence on events on the island. Current “hot button” issues include parking, as always, along with what should be done with the space at Veterans Community Park, said MICA board member Bernardo Bezos.

“The main things we’re seeing are parking – beach parking, and parking in the city, and the Veterans Park question,” said Bezos. A survey was recently sent to the MICA membership, and responses are being tabulated, said McCann.

“We’re asking the members what they want to see from MICA, and from the city. We ask about parking, Veterans Park, and water quality in our canals.” Additional concerns, and questions on the survey, concern how to deal with the anticipated onslaught of visitors from off-island, as projections show 20,000 additional residents moving to nearby areas, whose closest beach access will be on Marco Island, and the COPCN, or certificate of need, to gain additional ambulance capacity for emergencies occurring on Marco.

On Tuesday, July 4, though, long range concerns and issues can take a backseat to having a red, white and blue celebration. “Just be sure to bring your Residents’ Beach ID and your sunscreen,” said McCann.

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