Howard County families can celebrate Independence Day the old-fashioned way: a parade, a picnic, a blanket and a fireworks show over Lake Kittamaqundi.
The county's Recreation and Parks Department is hosting this year's 4th of July festival under Columbia's People Tree at the Kittamaqundi lakefront, next to Whole Foods. The popular celebration will feature food vendors and live music.
"We encourage families to come out early, bring a lunch and a cooler, spread blankets and enjoy the show," said Phil Bryan, Howard County's superintendent of recreation services.
Picnics are encouraged, but no alcohol is permitted. Food vendors slated to be at the festival include A&B Ice Cream, Hoffman's Funnel Cakes, Kettle Korn and Fireside Pizza, all serving what Bryan calls "all-American food."
One highlight, Bryan said, is a promotions and information tent, at which people can buy July 4th-themed hats and T-shirts, chairs and blankets. "If you forget that stuff, that'll be available," he said.
There will be music broadcast until 7 p.m., Bryan said, followed by a two-hour live performance by the Columbia Concert Band.
While visitors are waiting for the fireworks to start, Bryan said, they can take selfies with Uncle Sam, played by Recreation and Parks sports supervisor Amanda Bartell, in full costume with a very large, very hot mascot head.
"It has a fan inside it to try and keep her cool," Bryan said. "She'll have to take breaks every 20 minutes. I had to coax her into it."
The fireworks show, shot from Lake Kittamaqundi, will begin at dusk, which Bryan said will be approximately 9:30 p.m. The fireworks are provided and choreographed by Zambelli Fireworks, and will be set to a soundtrack of popular music. Bryan said the fireworks show cost $34,500.
The musical accompaniment for the fireworks show will be played from a CD at the festival — but if someone is sitting too far from the speakers or wants to participate in the festivities from home, Bryan said, they can listen along on an app, down-loadable on Apple or Android devices. The app, in its third year, is called "HoCo July4th" and features the entire fireworks playlist available on demand. The app also has maps and directions for everything from food to where to park.
For those who do not want to wait until evening to celebrate Independence Day, Columbia offers two community parades.
In the Village of River Hill, a parade begins at 9 a.m. that covers 2 miles, from Pointers Run Elementary School on Guilford Road to Great Star Drive and ending at the District 5 Fire Station in Clarksville.
The parade, in its 18th year, will feature a Cub Scout color guard, neighborhood swim teams and the Howard County Joint Military Council, according to River Hill communications and events coordinator Jennifer Lynott. It will include fire trucks, military vehicles and colorful floats, including one commemorating Columbia's 50th birthday.
New this year, Lynott said, is a section for children who are not part of a club or team but still want to participate in the parade. Children can ride decorated bikes or skateboards.
A crowd favorite at River Hill's parade is the Precision Lawn Chair Marching Dads, Lynott said. The annual act features men wearing red, white and blue boxer shorts and T-shirts and carrying lawn chairs, which they use to perform routines. County executive Allan Kittleman is expected to march with them this year, as he has in previous years.
Another parade will march along Hesperus Drive and Eliot's Oak Road, in the Longfellow neighborhood of Harper's Choice. It will begin and end at Longfellow Elementary School; lineup begins at 9:15 a.m. and the parade starts at 10 a.m. The parade is rain or shine, and anyone is welcome to march in it.
"In general, I never know who is going to show up, because we don't require that anyone register," said Barbara Russell, the parade's coordinator, in an email. "Whoever wants to participate just has to come and get in line."
Visitors are encouraged to bring canned goods for a food drive from "Food for Tomorrow" food bank, who will have volunteers at the parade.
After the parade, the neighborhood will hold its 46th annual softball game between the Eliot's Oak Nuts and the Hesperus Wrecks, Russell said. The teams are made up of people who live off each of Longfellow's two main roads. The game will be held at noon on Field 3 at Cedar Lane Park.
If you go
Those attending the lakefront fireworks can park at the Mall in Columbia and walk to the lakefront.
Organizers encourage people to arrive early to avoid traffic congestion. Little Patuxent Parkway will be closed around 6:30 p.m. and will not reopen until after the fireworks have ended. After that time, visitors can access the mall's parking lots from Governor Warfield Parkway.
Visitors can begin placing blankets on the grass by the lakefront at 8 a.m. Those wishing to lay out tarps must wait until 3 p.m. to protect the grass. Boats will not be permitted on the lake from July 3 to 5.
For more information visit https://www.howardcountymd.gov/July4th or call 410-313-1668. The inclement weather line is 410-313-4451.