There’s no place on Earth quite like it… Clear Lake on the Fourth of July. It’s kids and parades, bands and fireworks, picnics and cotton candy.
It’s the best time around and a celebration like none other.
Alice Hanley, long-time chairperson for the annual Fourth of July celebration, hears it every year from folks who come from far and wide.
“We have a lot of out-of-town folks who come — some of them have family here — and they always have great things to say,” Hanley relates. “I’ve had folks from Chicago tell me they’ve watched fireworks over the Navy Pier, but even that doesn’t hold a candle to what we have here. Clear Lake fireworks are the best!”
And the fireworks are only the beginning.
This year’s Fourth of July celebration starts on Wednesday, July 2, and continues through Sunday, July 6, with all the old favorites and plenty of new events to keep the surprises coming.
The first surprise was unveiled earlier this spring when John Severtson, recently retired CEO of Opportunity Village, was named grand marshall for the parade.
“We always have a lot of great candidates for grand marshall, people who are active in the community in so many ways,” explains Hanley.
While committee members sought to honor Severtson for his long tenure of service to Opportunity Village, at his urging, they are also using it as an opportunity to honor the Village itself.
“We’re very proud to have Opportunity Village in our community,” Hanley says. “The work of the Village and their mission is just fantastic.”
With that in mind, the theme of the big parade will be “Community of Opportunities,” recognizing that the purpose of the Village is to ensure that all people feel welcome and are enabled to explore every opportunity possible in a community that is truly their home.
With Severtson at the helm as grand marshall, look for all the favorite floats and few a new ones when the parade steps off down Main Avenue on Independence Day.
The evening of the Fourth of July will see the return of the huge fireworks display over the lake. This year, Hanley is careful to thank all those who have donated and/or pledged to the ongoing “Ignite Clear Lake” fund.
The purpose of the fund is to ease the burden of annual fundraising, while ensuring that the grand fireworks display will continue for generations to come. The community literally blows up $50,000 in fireworks each year, but Hanley notes that the return is far greater.
“We probably have 40,000 people coming into town over the Fourth of July,” she begins. “And those people are all spending money, whether they stay in a motel, go out to eat, shop in our stores, fill up a tank of gas, and what have you. During the course of the Fourth of July, it’s estimated that more than $10 million comes into our community, and that is a really significant amount.”
And for the families who every year gather at the lakeside to watch the spectacular fireworks display, it’s a memory more precious than anything. It’s a real American holiday and family time to treasure through the years.
Music, music, music
Another feature that keeps crowds coming back is the music each night at the City Park Bandshell.
“We’ve got some great entertainment coming,” says Hanley.
Starting it off on Wednesday, July 2, will be The Hepperly Band with its own brand of variety music. Hanley notes that it’s the first time for the band to play the bandshell over the Fourth of July, and she anticipates a great response from the public.
Thursday, July 3, will see the return of a very popular blues band as The Blue Band takes to the stage that evening.
“It’s been a couple years since The Blue Band has been here, and we’re very pleased to bring them back,” says Hanley. “They’re always very popular.”
On Friday, July 4, it’s the Clear Lake Municipal Band, sure to strike a patriotic chord before the big fireworks over the lake.
Next up on Saturday, July 5, will be Arch Allies, a perennial crowd favorite with covers from Journey, REO Speedwagon and Styx.
A new spin at the carnival
Hanley is keeping at least one of the new features under wraps until the celebration gets underway, but she hints that the carnival will have a new spin to it.
Evans United Shows will be back for a 41st year at the carnival and is reportedly bringing along something new for the Clear Lake crowd.
“I talked with Tom Evans, and he says they’re going to have an awesome new ride that he’s bringing, so we’re really excited about that,” she says.
Details of the ride remain top secret, but Hanley says “we’re going to love it.”
Throughout the midway, families are sure to find a variety of activities suited to kids of all ages, including grown-up kids. And, again this year, the festival will include a family day, set for Sunday, July 6, which Hanley notes as a fitting way to wrap up a long celebration that’s really all about making great family memories.
“With the ‘Family Feud’ game, and all the old fashion games with an egg toss and sack races, it’s just a really good time,” she says. “Family Day on Sunday has gotten really popular.”
Fun keeps going with Thursdays on Main
As grand as the Fourth of July celebration is in Clear Lake, the summer doesn’t start — or stop — with just the Fourth of July in this town. The fun starts early and keeps on going with a variety of weekend festivals and what has rapidly become a local favorite, starting the weekend off early each week with Thursdays on Main.
“It just about my favorite thing we do,” says Trish Pletcher, special projects director for the Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve been here at the Chamber since it started, and it’s kind of our baby. So to be able to watch it grow, and see all the families come down with their kids — it’s just a really fun time!”
Thursdays on Main started about six years ago, the brainchild of members of the Chamber’s Retail Committee who wanted to recapture those days when stores stayed open late one night a week and drew throngs of shoppers to the community.
“We had a Retail Committee meeting, and we had talked for years about trying to do something like they did years ago when the stores stayed open on Friday night for people,” Pletcher explains.
Back in the early days of Clear Lake — as well as towns across Iowa — farmers typically came to town only about one day a week, but on that one day they came prepared with their families to spend a little of their hard-earned money, and have a little fun in the process.
Today’s Thursdays on Main harkens to those days with plenty of family-friendly activities for all.
“Thursdays work well for us,” Pletcher says. “It’s heading in to the weekend, and everyone has a great time.”
The basic format is the same each week, although the variety of entertainment changes. Downtown festivities begin at 6 p.m., and a different group of local entertainment takes to the stage each Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Groups will range from karate demonstrations to dance teams, always with a local flair, and always something to please people of just about any age.
Live music then takes to the stage from 7-9 p.m., followed by a movie at City Park beginning at 9 p.m. Starting off the movie series this year will be a rather recent release with “Gravity” showing on Thursday, June 12.
The Clear Lake Arts Center also gets in to the act with activities for children and families.
Pletcher notes that the Chamber is also adding laser tag to the events this year, hoping to reach those “middle-age kids” who need their own brand of entertainment. And, of course, all the favorites from the bounce house to the hand-powered kiddie train rides will be back for the younger kids.
“There’s really something for the entire family, and that’s what makes it so fun,” Pletcher says.
Thursdays on Main does take a break on Thursday, July 3, yielding to the entire line-up of special events for the Fourth of July. Thursdays on Main resumes the following week and will continue with a different line-up of entertainment, music and movie each week through Thursday, Aug. 21.
So next time someone says that “summer is over” after the Fourth of July, be sure to tell ’em that the summer fun keeps coming in Clear Lake.