Metro Detroiters celebrate Fourth with family fun

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Northville — Metro Detroiters said “Happy Birthday U.S.A.” Monday with fanfare, festivals and fireworks.

And of course there were parades, steeped in tradition, like the one in Northville.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” said Judy Young, 57, of Howell, from a spot she chose to see the parade at the intersection of Main Street and Hutton. “I grew up in Northville and I come back every year for the parade.”

Metro Detroit communities from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti are celebrating America’s 240th birthday in similar grand fashion.

Young was among the estimated 20,000 who packed downtown Northville’s streets for its annual Independence Day Parade.

The city has had a Fourth of July parade for more than 130 years. This year’s theme was “Cheers for Team USA!” and celebrated the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“We’re celebrating the Summer Olympics which are coming up next month and we thought it would be a fun tie-in,” said Jessica Striegle, executive director of the Northville Community Foundation, which has organized the parade for the last 17 years. “And we’re celebrating America in general.”

The parade marched down Main Street and featured 140 different entries in the parade, including floats, vintage and classic cars and cars from Hollywood movies. They were joined by veterans’ groups and a high school marching band.

Melissa Montgomery, 29, drove all the way from Sterling Heights to bring her 6-month-old daughter, Scarlett, to see the Northville parade. Like many at the parade, Scarlett was decked out in red, white and blue.

“Last night, she saw her first fireworks and today, she’s seeing her first parade,” said Montgomery, who moved back to Michigan from Arizona last year. “This is my first time at the Northville parade, too.”

American flags mounted high on buildings waved in the breeze above the street.

At 75 degrees and partly cloudy, the weather was perfect for a parade.

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile was among the cars in the parade. A young lady perched on top of the hot-dog shaped vehicle greeted on-lookers with a “Happy Fourth of July!” and invited them to join her in singing the Oscar Mayer TV commercial jingle.

Minutes before the procession began, however, a couple of fighter jets flew over Northville’s downtown. The maneuver drew a round of applause from the street.

“I thought it was amazing,” Young said. “It was spectacular. It gave me goose bumps.”

Other highlights this year included a children’s bike parade, a pet parade and the Plymouth Fife and Drum Corps.

“There’s something for everyone,” Striegle said. “It’s an annual tradition in Northville and it’s a lot of fun.”

About 20 miles east, revelers gathered in Clawson for its annual Fourth of July Festival. The events’ centerpiece is a parade, which the city has had since 1932 and draws was more than 20,000 every year.

The parade covered a 2-mile route around the city’s downtown. This year, it had 105 entries in the parade, up a little more than usual, said Debbie Wooley, the parade’s chairwoman.

Troy firefighters watch while the Troy and Clawson fire departments battle with their water hoses Monday at the Clawson Fourth of July celebration.

One of the Clawson festival’s biggest attractions is the “water battle” between Clawson and Troy firefighters at City Park.

It’s sort of a tug-of-war contest, but instead of pulling on a rope, two opposing teams of three firefighters from each department used the streams of water from their fire hoses to push a small metal barrel suspended in the air by a pulley on a length of steel cable. The winner is the first team to push the barrel to the poles supporting the cable overhead. Members of both teams are in full firefighting gear, including helmets.

This year’s contest was fierce. Clawson looked poised to get revenge on Troy for last year’s defeat, but they couldn’t finish off the visiting team in any of the three, three-minute long bouts.

“It’s all about fun,” Clawson Fire Chief Rick Dylewski said. “But hopefully, we’ll get them next time.”

In between the fight’s rounds, firefighters aimed the hoses in the air and many of the younger spectators took advantage to cool off a bit from the sunny, 80-degree weather.

Christine Dronzkowski, 58, of Philadelphia, said the water battle is always a crowd favorite.

“I love seeing the parade, but the water battle is probably my favorite thing at the festival,” she said. “No matter who wins, it’s always wonderful. It’s a blast.”

Dronzkowski said she was in town this weekend for her Clawson High School class’ 40th reunion on Saturday and made sure to stay for the festival.

And its main attraction is the fireworks show that’s set to begin at dusk.

As soon as the water battle was over, Dan Bilbrey, whose company is putting on the show, sprang into action. The 56-year-old Monroe County man and his crew, which included his father, brother, son, wife and other family members, began making preparations for the pyrotechnics.

Not only was it America’s birthday Monday, it was also Bilbrey’s. He said he doesn’t mind giving up his birthday to put on the show.

“I would do it even if I didn’t get paid,” said Bilbrey, who’s been doing fireworks shows professional for nearly 40 years. “You don’t get into this business for the money.”

Wooley said she’s expecting another large crowd for Monday night’s fireworks show.

“If you’ve ever been here for the fireworks, you know that every nook in cranny in town is packed for it,” said Wooley. “The parade and the fireworks are just long standing traditions that give us a great sense of community, which makes Clawson so special.”

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