It's still eight days until the Fourth of July, but holiday activities blast off today in Harford County.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend celebrations in Darlington, Havre de Grace and Bel Air in the days ahead that will include parades, picnics, fireworks and other festivities.
The first celebration is today in Darlington, where about 2,000 people are expected to turn out for a holiday parade and fireworks show.
The parade [pbr: begins at 5:30 p.m. and fireworks follow at dark.
In Havre de Grace
Carolyn Narvell, a member of the Independence Day Celebration Committee of Havre de Grace for 18 years, said more than 50,000 people are expected to watch the town's parade and fireworks display July 3.
"We will have about 10,000-15,000 people in Tydings Park," Narvell said. "The fireworks shoot up from Tydings Island, so people watch from the hills surrounding the island. They watch from their boats out on the bay and from Perry Point in Cecil County."
Narvell said the $21,000 show will be put on by Fireworks Productions Inc. Jeff Thompson of Premiere Entertainment will serve as master of ceremonies.
New this year is a restriction on the traditional practice of reserving spots in advance by placing blankets or lawn chairs in the park. No one will be allowed to put items out before 8 a.m. Sunday, Narvell said.
"Our parade and show is so popular, every year we have people putting their things out a week in advance to get a spot to sit," she said. "Many of the people sit in the yards of private residences, and those people don't want things in their yards for a week. So I recommend that people get here early."
Another tradition will end this year, for a sadder reason. For years, resident Sammy Magness rode his bike at the end of the parade carrying a sign that read, "The End."
"When people saw his sign, they knew the parade was over," Narvell said, adding that Magness passed away last week.
"We had arranged to have a limousine drive him this year because he could no longer ride his bike or walk," Narvell said. Instead, the "the limousine will carry the sign in a visible way in his honor."
In Bel Air
Those who miss the festivities July 3 can celebrate the holiday in Bel Air on July 4.
The day kicks off at 6:45 a.m. with a flag-raising ceremony.
Don Stewart, the Bel Air Independence Day Celebration Committee president, said more than 80,000 people are expected to gather for the town's event.
Although most of the activities remain the same this year, changes have been made to accommodate the crowd. Stewart said spectators will find additional parking at Bel Air High School, which should help ease congestion and provide space for about 200 more vehicles.
"We have so many people at this event that they have to park along Route 24 and in shopping center lots and anywhere else they can find," Stewart said.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, and I don't think anything else in the state of Maryland comes close to our celebration," he said.
Besides the parade and fireworks, other activities include horseshoe pitching, hamster races, a turtle derby, a frog-jumping contest and a watermelon-eating contest, all at Bel Air Middle School and High School.
Hays House, adjacent to the high school, is holding tours and a costume contest.
The rain date for the fireworks is July 5.
Havre de Grace events schedule
6 p.m.: Carnival opens in Tydings Park and remains open until 10 p.m. Hours for remaining days: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday; 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to midnight July 3.
2 p.m.: Parade starts on Union Avenue and continues down the entire length of the street. Bands, military units, dance units, floats, clowns and custom cars will be featured.
7 p.m.: Gazze will perform before the fireworks.
9 p.m. Fireworks show.
Music will continue after the fireworks until 11 p.m.
There is no rain date.
Bel Air's July 4 schedule of events
7:00 a.m.-10: 30 a.m.: Blueberry pancake and sausage breakfast.
9 a.m.: Horseshoe pitching (8:30 a.m. registration), hamster race (8:45 a.m. registration) and Hays House tours.
9:30 a.m.: Turtle derby (9 a.m. registration).
11 a.m.: American patriot costume contest (categories include up to age 3; ages 4-7; ages 8-13; and age 14 to adult).
Uncle Sam Says: ages 5-7; ages 8-10; ages 11-13; ages 14 to adult.
Bicycle registration and rodeo.
Great Bel Air Frog-Jumping Contest: 10:30 a.m. registration and a limit of two frogs per person.
11:30 a.m.: Watermelon-eating contest.
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.: Parade staging.
6 p.m.: Parade.
8:15 p.m.: Bel Air Community Band Concert on lawn of high school.
9:45 p.m.: Fireworks display. For more information, call 410-879-4245.