Thousands of Texans plopped into neon-yellow inner tubes and floated lazily along the Trinity River to take a break from the 90-degree heat and celebrate America’s independence Friday.
The tubers were among an estimated 30,000 people who had attended the Fort Worth’s Fourth celebration at Panther Island Pavilion by late afternoon. Thousands more were expected by nighttime.
Attendees such as Dwila Pearson of Fort Worth showed up at noon — two hours before the gates opened — to find a shady waterfront spot for her friends and family.
“I have a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, and with the economy the way it is, today I was looking to create a memorable experience with my family for free,” Pearson said.
The eight-hour event wasn’t exactly free, however. Parking ranged from $5 to $10, and this year the public wasn’t allowed to bring in coolers or food and drinks.
Pearson said she had already bought a cooler when she learned the news.
“I haven’t bought anything yet, and I’m hot and thirsty,” she said at 4 p.m. while fanning herself. “For us to patronize vendors all day would break the bank.”
But Pearson and her friend Marcy White were pleased to snag spots right along the river for the 10 p.m. fireworks show — the largest in North Texas.
“I didn’t realize what I signed up for,” White joked. “Next time I’m coming up here later.”
The daylight hours brought plenty of activities for children, including pony rides, bounce houses, face painting and zip lines.
“I’m hot. I’m excited, and I’m going to ride horses,” 10-year-old Haley Davenport exclaimed while waiting in line for a pony ride with her younger brother, Mason.
Colorful face paint dripped down Mason’s cheek as he and his sister spoke of the upcoming fireworks show.
“Are we going to be here all day?” the two asked their mom while jumping up and down.
Another mom, Rachel Carlson of Fort Worth, said she wouldn’t make the show with her husband and 20-month-old girl, Zenelle.
The parents sought shade in one of the kid zones while Zenelle molded sand into tiny castles.
Carlson said that they planned to leave before the fireworks show but that they got what they came for — free kid-friendly entertainment.
“Just be prepared for the heat,” she advised future attendees.
Roger Jennings of North Richland Hills looked on as a Jet Ski show began on the other side of Panther Island Pavilion, splashing grateful tubers.
Jennings brought his wife, Nirza, to watch the live bands, but the two took a brief break when she trekked to a local bar to watch Brazil and Colombia play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Like Pearson, Jennings also showed up to Fort Worth’s Fourth two hours before the gates opened.
“Get here early and get a spot,” he advised.
Jennings’ sandy waterfront spot gave him front-row seats to the music, the Jet Skis and the flyboard shows.
“The event is going outstanding,” said Matt Oliver, a spokesman for the Trinity River Vision Authority.
Oliver said food lines and traffic getting to the festival were moving smoothly.
“All the adjustments we made to this year’s festival are going very well,” he said.
In Arlington, ‘I love America’
In Arlington, at least 60,000 people turned out early in the day to celebrate the largest Fourth of July parade in Texas.
Jean and Errol Chin, originally from Grenada, moved to the United States in the ’80s but decided to call Arlington home in 2006. Since then, they’ve never missed the parade.
“I love America; that’s first. And I get to celebrate America,” Errol Chin said of her repeat attendance.
This year’s theme, “Made in America … Celebrating Ingenuity,” drew thousands who lined the streets of a 2-mile route starting near UT Arlington’s College Park Center.
Arlington resident Tom Damura brought his decked-out Airedale terrier, Ziva.
Ziva wore a tiny white sailor cap with American flag pins and a red-white-and-blue star shirt.
This was Ziva’s first parade after Damura’s dog Zoe, a local favorite, died of melanoma in May.
“She has a different personality,” Damura said of Ziva. But he was certain she’d fare just fine throughout the day.
Float entrants included staples such as the Arlington fire and police departments, the Arlington school district, Tarrant County College, the Christian Classic Cruisers, the Rotary Club of Arlington and the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport Department of Public Safety.
Gilbert Cipriano of Fort Worth played a little role reversal at this year’s parade. Cipriano, who usually stands with his fellow officers on the DFW DPS float, attended as a spectator with his wife, Mireya, and their 3-year-old, Gabriela.
His friend Marcos Andujar of Colleyville stood close by, laughing, as he celebrated his 16th year in attendance.
The Arlington native said he enjoys seeing his alma mater, Arlington High School, and has brought his wife, Erin, and their three children along since the beginning.
“From when she was pregnant to after they were delivered — we’ve brought them here,” he said.
His favorite aspect of the parade? “The cruisin’ Elvises,” naturally.
The mini-motorcycle riders, formally known as The World Famous Wheelie-ing Elvi, were dressed in white polyester suits and zoomed up and down the streets of Arlington as the crowd cheered and children giggled.
The parade is in its 49th year but remains “Arlington’s parade,” Bob Callas, the parade’s route coordinator, has told the Star-Telegram.
Other local festivities included Bedford’s 4thFEST, Hurst’s 11th annual Stars & Stripes, the Como Day Parade, the SummerBlast July 4 Fireworks Show, the Lone Stars & Stripes Fireworks Celebration, the Northeast Tarrant Family 4th Celebration and Fireworks Show and Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic.