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Fourth of July festivities begin

 

Brian O'Connor

Jazmyn Wright smiles before the chaos and messiness of the Welcome Back Picnic pie-eating competition Tuesday at Shoemaker Park. Wright won the event by eating the most pie in three minutes without the aid of utensils or hands.

The light slanted low across Shoemaker Bay, and the parking lot at Shoemaker Park was almost full Tuesday.

Music was playing on the speakers, hamburgers and hot dogs sizzled on the grill. Hugs, smiles, handshakes and jokes made the rounds of the Welcome Back Picnic. The Fourth of July was still three days away, but a festive atmosphere had already begun to creep into the air around town, and a series of events this week started the journey to Wrangell's most celebrated public holiday. Earlier in the week, a Red, White and Blue Fair showcased Wrangell crafts, ranging from beer to quilts. A bike rodeo at Volunteer Park drew many youthful participants for bike maintenance and fun.

For some, like 32-year veteran Wrangell High School teacher, coach and athletic director Myron Myers, who now lives in Anchorage, the picnic and associated activities represent a chance to reconnect with people unseen in years. In Myers case, it's been 12 years since his last Wrangell Fourth of July.

"That's what people do," he said. "I see people here that I haven't seen in ... gosh ... 20, 30 years, maybe 40 years, even. It's really neat to see 'em, talk to 'em, they tell you things from way back that you would have never guessed they thought about."

"As a teacher, you think of these people as they were back then, and so to see 'em and to see that they have kids or grandkids, it's neat, it's just a really neat experience to see them and talk to them," Myers added.

Wrangell's reputation for a fantastic Fourth drew Myers, his daughter Erin Binek (who's been gone from Wrangell 17 years) to return and bring their grand-kids Reagan and Avery for their first time, Myers said.

"The Fourth in Wrangell is probably as good as there is anywhere," he said. "Part of that is the feeling that people have to come back for the Fourth and see friends. Of course, some live here still, but it's just a special time and I'm really happy to be here to see these guys and gals and touch base with their lives and see how things have gone."

"It's pretty amazing that such a small town could come up with the money they do and put on such a big event," he said.

The Fourth is largely a family affair. Alta Neyman Carter returned this year and brought eight other members of her family along via plane from Boise, Idaho including Katelin Carter, 9, Gracie Carter, 7, and Addi Carter, 4, who were very excited to participate.

"I'm gonna get to be on a float," Katelin said, with certainty.

Brian O'Connor

A patriotic cake on display Tuesday at the Nolan Center was submitted as part of the baked goods division. The first annual Red, White and Blue Fair was held and featured dozens of submissions in many different categories.

It's the children's first trip to Alaska, and they've enjoyed themselves immensely. They liked swimming and hiking and the Evergreen Elementary School play ground so far. They even saw their first banana slug.

"It was huge!" Gracie said.

For others, the Fourth has made a lasting impression, even if they can't boast decades of residency. Bill and Judy Smith, now of Corvallis, Ore., lived in Wrangell for two years in the early 70s. This year marks their third consecutive Fourth of July.

"We lived up here a couple of years," Bill Smith said. "We've come up three years in the summer."

The Fourth makes for a natural breaking point, fishwise, he added.

"We go for Kings a little earlier then switch to Cohos after the Fourth," he said.

Like Myers and others, Wrangell's Fourth is legendary, Bill Smith added.

"I think Wrangell's pretty well-known for the Fourth, maybe a little bit more when the lumber camps were going," he said. "Ketchikan, too, but Wrangell always outdid them for the Fourth."

 

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