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Lighting up the night

After the sun set the Demopolis sky was still lit as a result of the night’s festivities.

At approximately 9 p.m., the crowd was officially welcomed and patriotic melodies began to fill the air. Shortly thereafter, a whistling sound was heard as Pyro Productions, the same company responsible for Birmingham’s “Thunder on the Mountain,” set off the first firework over the Tombigbee River.

But that isn’t how the day began.

Although some area residents decided to stay home this Fourth of July, a record-breaking 3,500 citizens made the decision to spend the day at the annual Freedom on the River celebration.

“This crowd is bigger than the one last year,” Demopolis Industrial Board director Jay Shows guessed as he looked around the City Landing Tuesday. “I am thrilled.”

The event kicked off at noon Tuesday as vendors sold everything from barbecue to funnel cakes.

For the bolder, more active attendees, a rock-climbing wall stood tall in the middle of the green.

At 7 p.m. 50 children, ranging from birth to age 12, paraded their best Fourth of July gear as they competed for the title of having the most Independence Day spirit.

“This was the most participation we’ve had in the parade as well, and that’s my favorite part,” Chamber of Commerce president Kelley Smith said. “It’s so interesting to see what the children and the parents can come up with.”

In the birth to 4-year-old group, Taylor Weeks won first place, followed by Miley Lee in second and Harrison Carroll in third. Clay McVay was decked out enough to win in the 5-8 year-old category, with Nicole Hawkins and Ridge Brock close behind. In the 9-12-year-old group, Victoria Washburn came in first, Dacota Jordan in second and PJ Farley in third.

But the day wouldn’t have been such as success without the volunteers and sponsors, which Shows said were “key” in the $5,000 event.

Volunteering this year were Collins Communications, NES Rentals, Kevin Jacobs, Brandon Smith, Stephen Gutshall and the Demopolis Civitan Club. The 2006 Freedom on the River sponsors were Unicel, Alabama Central Credit Union, BankTrust, Cemex, Robertson Bank, New Era, Foster Farms, Alabama Power and Southern Tank Leasing.

Although Smith said she hopes to have inflatable slides next year, she is perfectly happy with this year’s celebration.

“I am so pleased with the way events went this year. We had the largest crowd ever and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves,” Smith smiled. “It’s always going to be just a great laid-back way to celebrate the Fourth of July.”

As the crowd “oohed” and “ahhhhed” at the sight of the late-night fireworks display, some watchers sang the words to “I’m Proud to be an American.”

And what better way for the grand finale to end, but to the words of “Sweet Home Alabama.”