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Patriotic 4th of July — Michigan-style

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

When I think about the Fourth of July, I remember parades and picnics and fireworks lighting up the night sky. It’s a nostalgic holiday that reminds me of my family, fireflies and hand-cranked ice cream.

The really good news is that you can most likely find all of those things in your own hometown, one town over or as far as you want to drive, fly or go by train. You can make a weekend of it, since Independence Day happily falls on a Saturday this year.

The small town I live in, Marshall, has all of the requisite elements of an old-fashioned Fourth of July. The fireworks display kicks off this year on Friday night at the Calhoun County Fairgrounds. The display is part of the annual Cruise to the Fountain, a classic car event.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the traditional festivities start at the iconic Brooks Fountain, the stepping out point for the bicycle and pet parade at 10 a.m. Parents help their children deck their bikes, wagons and carts and their pets in patriotic red, white and blue for the march down Michigan Avenue.

I know this isn’t a unique parade concept, but if you haven’t ever seen a bike and pet parade with your own kids or grandkids, you’ll really miss a piece of Americana. That theme continues, when, following the parade, the Marshall Rotary Band strikes up a patriotic medley. The smell of barbeque chicken permeates the air, served by local folks. We spread a blanket on the lawn at the fountain and eat with our neighbors and friends. Small town America at its best!

If you want a short road trip, I can highly recommend the amazing fireworks display along the Grand River at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, 303 Pearl Street NW, in Grand Rapids. You can relax at the park from 5:30 p.m. and enjoy traditional music, blues and pop tunes while waiting for the skies to darken. We put together a picnic at the Downtown Market at 435 Ionia Ave., which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the Fourth of July. I really like Sweetie-licious Bake Shoppe for some of the best blueberry pie I’ve ever eaten. We grabbed cheese, crackers and charcuterie at Aperitivo to go with our pie and headed over the park.

Up north, one of my most favorite Michigan Fourth of July celebrations was a weekend spent at Crystal Mountain Resort and Spa in Thompsonville, near Traverse City. Maybe because it is a family owned resort, they really know how to throw an old-fashioned patriotic Independence Day bash. It can be an active weekend with bike tours, tubing and a family golf scramble, or a totally laid-back, do nothing by the pool time and toasting marshmallows at the fire pit. The folks at Crystal Mountain organize a family carnival all day on the third “slopeside” of their ski mountain. This year the fireworks start at dusk on July 3. It’s a wonderful show, with dazzling flashes of color that appear over the mountain.

This first weekend in July, marked by the celebration of our country’s founding, showcases the best of what Michigan offers—family, friends and fireworks on a warm summer evening.

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