Visitors enjoy family-friendly events at Bel Air Fourth of July

Horseshoes were flying at Rockfield Park in Bel Air late in the morning on the Fourth of July, either clanging as they struck the targeted metal stakes, or thumping as they missed and landed in the pits, or elsewhere.

About 100 men and women participated in the horseshoe pitching competition, part of a slate of Bel Air Independence Day community events.

Bel Air's Independence Day started at 6:45 a.m. with a flag-raising at Bel Air High School and was to continue into the night, concluding with fireworks filling the sky over Rockfield Park. Bel Air's was the last area celebration that began in Darlington the evening of June 24, continued in Havre de Grace on July 2, in Edgewood-Joppatowne the evening of July 2 and in Kingsville with a parade Fourth of July morning.

The family activities in Bel Air were popular with many people the morning of the Fourth.

"This is a good place to come," said Lionel Bowser, of Aberdeen, who has played horseshoes during Bel Air's Independence Day celebration for seven years.

"It's peaceful," he said. "You can bring your family."

People could also take tours of the historic Hays House, check out the water-balloon toss, costume contest, Uncle Sam Says and watermelon eating competition, all at Shamrock Park, plus the annual bicycle rodeo at Bel Air Elementary School.

The bike rodeo was hosted by the Bel Air Police Department and Police Explorer Post 9010, and it included police motorcycle riding and police dog demonstrations.

Abingdon resident Jennifer Duke's three children — Kayli, 11, Ethan, 6, and Ella Grace, 3 — took part in their first bike rodeo.

The children rode their bikes, which were covered with red, white and blue decorations, through various obstacle courses in the elementary school parking lot.

Explorer Post advisor Ofc. Rick Krause and the youth Explorer members guided the Duke children and other participants through the obstacles, such as riding a figure-eight loop around traffic cones.

Duke helped her youngest daughter navigate the obstacles, as Ella Grace rode a bike with balloons attached to the handlebar.

"It was fun," she said later as the children watched the K-9 demonstration. "It was hot, but I think they enjoyed it, and I think that they also learned a lot."

The weather Tuesday morning was sunny, with temperatures in the high 80s. There was a chance of scattered thunderstorms for the evening and night, according to the National Weather Service website.

The annual Independence Day parade on Main Street was scheduled for 6 p.m., and fireworks, to be launched from Rockfield Park, were scheduled for about 9:30 p.m.

The parade would not be rescheduled, if canceled because of weather, but the rain date for fireworks is 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The annual horseshoe pitching, which has been part of Independence Day celebrations in Bel Air for decades, draws people from all over Harford County, Maryland and states such as Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, South Carolina and Virginia, according to the contest organizers.

About 100 men and women took part in singles and doubles competitions this year, according to Dave Williams, who coordinates the contest with Greg Cooper.

"This is about average for good weather," Williams said of the attendance.

Cooper noted attendance is usually higher if Independence Day falls during the middle of the week — he said people who might come this year could be out of town, celebrating a long weekend with the holiday falling toward the beginning of the week.

Cooper said he expects about 150 participants next year, when Independence Day is on a Wednesday.

The competition is a draw for families, and two and three generations participated Tuesday.

Rick Morrison, 54, of Dublin, took part with his 31-year-old son, Ricky, and his 12-year-old grandson, Connor, of Street.

Morrison said he has been pitching horseshoes during Independence Day for about 42 years, and he pitched horseshoes with his neighborhood friends when he was growing up in Bel Air.

He has a horseshoe pit, with lights, on his property, and his son has a pit, too.

"It's a tradition for us — Fourth of July, the first thing we're doing is coming and playing horseshoes," Morrison said.

He noted his family even schedules vacations around the competition.

Men and women competed separately. Vicki Smith, 53, of Darlington, pitched on one side of the field while her daughter, Breanna, watched.

Breanna Smith also took part in the competition; she was her mother's doubles partner.

Vicki Smith had already won the women's singles championship Tuesday.

She said she has been pitching horseshoes since she was 14 years old.

Smith said she takes part in the Bel Air Independence Day competition because Cooper and Williams put on a nice, family-friendly event.

"That's what we come for ... to spend the holiday with your family, there's nothing better," she said.

James Stewart, 82, of Baltimore, grew up in Bel Air and is a 1955 graduate of Central Consolidated School. Central was one of two segregated high schools in Harford County, along with Havre de Grace Consolidated, for African-American students in the 1950s and 60s.

Both schools closed in 1965; Harford County Public Schools fully integrated the next school year.

Stewart, who moved to Baltimore when he got married, said he has been participating in the Bel Air Independence Day horseshoe competition for about 30 years.

He takes part in a number of horseshoe competitions, including out-of-state events.

Stewart said he enjoys meeting new people at these events.

"I like to meet new people," he said. "You learn a lot from them."

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