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Marco Island’s Fourth of July celebration had a little bit of everything – almost.

The afternoon “Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam” at Residents’ Beach started slowly, drawing the smallest crowd in years, according to Ruth McCann, executive director of MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association, and sand castle contest judge Ray McChesney. Perhaps the ominous weather forecast, with weather radar showing areas of heavy downpours and lightning strikes, kept people off the beach.

“Plus, it’s the last day of a four-day weekend,” offered McCann. They canceled the hotdog eating contest for lack of entries, and had to put off many of the kids’ games and activities until after the “all clear” sounded on the lightning warning system.

But the force field that seems to protect Marco Island from inclement weather during big events held, mostly. While driving from the mainland, cars were going 35 mph on Collier Boulevard with their flashers on, with lightning strikes in every direction as the rain slashed down. But crossing the Jolley Bridge, blue sky was visible to the west, and only a brief shower dampened the sand a little after 3 p.m., not even enough to wash out the sandcastle contest entries.

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These included a red, white and blue octopus sculpted by Zach, Zoey and Isabell Paulson, winner of the “best sea creature” category, and a heraldic bald eagle with embossed stars, winner for “most patriotic.”

But the overall winner was the Roloff family team, who created a sunken conversation pit with comfortable seating and a central coffee table. Scott, Cindy, Ginger, and Grace Roloff not only won a prize, but gave themselves a comfortable area from which to take in the fireworks and the sunset. Along with their gift certificate, they received a friendly reminder that all holes needed to be filled in before they left their creation behind.

After the largely gray, overcast sky of the afternoon, which at least had the virtue of acting as an efficient sunblock, around SPF 30, the show that mother nature put on at sunset was nothing short of spectacular.

“I think this might be more beautiful than the fireworks,” said Jill Johnson. She stood off the beach in water almost up to her waist, holding son Max, 2, and keeping a close eye on Jack, 6, as they reveled in the afterglow. A spectator fleet of over 80 boats was scattered offshore, and law enforcement vessels could be seen with their blue lights flashing, providing a precursor to the fireworks show.

By the time the first official fireworks went off at 9 p.m., the thousands who had stayed away earlier had returned to the beach, with thousands scattered along the wide sugar sand expanse.

As the rockets rose into the sky and exploded, the echoes of the detonations reverberated off the beachside condos. The spectators were washed in the sound as well as the glow of the fireworks.

An example of both your tax dollars at work and a public-private partnership, the fireworks were well-received, with appreciative noises rising up from the crowd. A significant percentage of those watching were apparently seeing the show on their phones, as the glow of screens showed many video recordings being captured.

The fireworks lasted about half an hour, and built to several climaxes, each punctuated by applause, before still more rockets went off. Even after the actual, final finale, said McCann, “they always find some more they didn’t shoot off. You wait, there will be more.” Sure enough, 20 minutes or more later, a couple stray rockets shot up off the barge.

After a long day at the beach, the cleanup crew was scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m., said McCann, and Tigertail Beach has a beach cleanup set for Saturday morning, also starting at 8.

 

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