Never mind the recession.
To heck with the unemployment figures.
Don’t even think about those fools in Washington.
For one perfect weekend, the folks of Rim Country and a great crush of visitors, family, friends and Valley refugees put all those troubles aside and threw one hellacious birthday bash for the country they still love.
Down in the Valley, the temperature climbed past 110, and hard-pressed cities from Gilbert to Mesa cancelled their fireworks shows.
But in Rim Country, attendance at an old-time July 4th celebration and fireworks show drew an estimated 12,000 people — about 20 percent more than last year.
The sound of children’s laughter glittered like a string of sparklers through a holiday crowded with family events that would have made Norman Rockwell drool while campers and stream splashers fanned out through the area.
Every campsite outside of town and every room in town filled up, despite the efforts of a monsoon deluge on Friday to dampen spirits. But the weather cleared over the weekend, offering just the right combination of sun, billows of clouds, cooling breezes and a picture-perfect evening for the $10,000 fireworks show, funded by the Payson Water Department and the Northern Gila County Sanitary District.
“It turned out great,” said Marty Putnam, the visitor center manager for the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce. “Biggest question I got all day was, ‘Are you going to do it again next year?’ Of course, I said, ‘You bet!’”
Almost the only complaints he fielded had to do with the heavy traffic getting into town. At times, it took half an hour to make it up the last hill between Rye and Payson, with such frequent slowdowns that visitors who made it into town were surprised there wasn’t an accident clogging up the highway.
At the park, people spread out blankets, plopped down under canopies set up on the lawn or found shade trees, while kids raced about the park — participating in tug-of-wars, potato sack races and three-legged races.
Vendors who paid $300 for permits to set up and serve the crowd in Green Valley Park did a booming business — even before the fireworks started going off.
Chris Higgins, who owns Scoops in the Swiss Village, said he dished up nearly 1,000 ice cream cones, running through 16 cartons of ice cream. He noted the town limited the number of vendors, so everyone did well — in contrast to the Beeline Cruise-In Classic Auto Show, where so many vendors set up booths that no one did a lot of business.
“It was a great event,” said Higgins of the fireworks show.
The day started with a solemn raising of the flag and memorial service for the nation’s war dead, attended by combat veterans for almost every conflict since World War II.
The action then shifted to Main Street for a funky family parade with decorated dogs and wobbly wagons, full of grinning kids waving little flags.
People then scattered throughout the heat of the day, returning home for naps splash-abouts in the East Verde, a little fishing in Tonto Creek — the full range of outdoor possibilities with hardly any problems for police the whole weekend.
Some communities hosted their own neighborhood celebrations. In East Verde Estates, kids, residents and visitors bounced up and down in a big rubber room, ran go-carts around an improvised course, threw horseshoes and fished the river with bamboo fishing poles.
Crowds began to gather again at Green Valley Park late in the afternoon, finding a seat on the hills overlooking the lake in anticipation of what turned into a 45-minute extravaganza.
Once again, traffic congestion and a lack of parking posed almost the only problems despite the huge crowd.
“They started running buses from the high school at 5:30,” said Putnam and as late as 8:30, they still had buses coming steadily — with 40 or 50 people in each one.”
But the show proved well worth the wait for most spectators, as the crowd craned their necks skyward and oohed and ahhed in the rockets red glare.