Gage, 2, and Gavin Palace, 3, normally blend into a crowd simply because they only come up to an adult’s knee, but on the Fourth of July they stood out proudly, on account of their blond Mohawks painted with the stars and stripes.
At Payson’s annual Fourth of July children’s games, the boys showcased their mother Kyndra Conlon’s artistic talent.
“Our favorite part of the day is the kids races. Our family of 10 makes a day of it setting up our canopy at 7 a.m. and then I take the boys home to do their hair. They look forward to that every year,” said Kyndra.
Already, the boys had participated in the bear crawl and the three-legged race.
“When the band starts up later, my boys will be on the dance floor the whole time. They love to dance,” said Kyndra.
By 2 p.m. Monday, Green Valley Park had been transformed into a virtual tent city with canopies and pop-ups mushrooming over every section of the vast grassy area from the lake to the bowl surrounding the band shell.
Officials and businesses planned on thousands attending.
Spread out amongst the camped out families, vendors sold hot dogs, pulled pork, barbecue, tacos, burritos, smoothies, ice cream and kettle corn. Other booths sold crafts or offered face painting and spray-on tattoos.
Meanwhile, Payson police officers strolled through the peaceful crowds, while town of Payson employees and volunteers stewarded people into games.
A few nonprofits had also set up tables.
The Payson Supply Line, (www.paysonsupplyline.com), booth manned by Butch Klein and Lud Kaftan reminded celebrants to support the troops that keep America safe.
The law enforcement groups of Payson had a tent selling food, candy, and all the glow toys a kid could want to support their Christmas program. All proceeds from the day would be used to fund Christmas shopping trips to Walmart for children whose families couldn’t afford to give them presents.
“Last year, we spent $16,000 on gifts for the underprivileged children of Payson,” said Patty Wortnar of the county attorney’s office.
The organizers also kept games going all day long.
“Time for everyone’s favorite game — the water balloon toss!” announced Michael Rose, a volunteer announcer for the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department. As more than 100 contestants lined up near the band shell at the park, Michael directed everyone to grab a water balloon.
“Remember: if the balloon breaks, you’re done,” he said.
Couples, friends, parents and children lined up to begin tossing balloons to each other. For some, it took only one toss for the balloon to break. Quickly the line of contestants thinned out until only two groups remained. The final winners walked off with a prize provide by the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department.
Nearby, three large bounce houses allowed kids to work off energy. Children could bounce for a half hour for $1 or all day long for $15.
“Time for the 2 and under foot race!” called out Cameron Davis, head of the parks department.
About 50 parents lined up with their toddlers with one parent supporting their child at the start of the race and the second waiting at the end to encourage them to finish.
Even with that support, one little girl got so far ahead of the pack that she apparently decided to turn around and go back to the beginning. The crowd groaned in disappointment, then laughed at the capriciousness of toddlers.
As Davis ran down the list of age groups for the run, the band warmed up to begin a round of freeze dance with the kids.
Waiting to join in the freeze dance, Brian Frederick, his wife Susan and 5-year-old son Henry, from Phoenix sat under the shade of a tree watching the runners.
“Henry ran the three-legged race. We are visiting friends from church and enjoying the day out of the intense Valley heat,” said Frederick.
The foot races over, the band struck up the music. Some of the first dancers out on the floor? The Palace boys, just shaking it up and their patriotic Mohawks flashing in the sunlight.
How to see the fireworks with less stress
With thousands of people parking, streets blocked off by police, and crowds wandering about, figuring out how to enjoy the fireworks and events at Green Valley Park offered a challenge.
First stress hurdle to overcome: parking and transportation.
The town’s parks and recreation, department partnered with the Payson Unified School District to offer a shuttle service from the high school parking lot to Green Valley Park.
Some guests continued to arrive at the last moment — and others decided to beat the crowds by taking the shuttle back to their cars before the end of the display.
“A lot of people leave in the middle of the fireworks,” said Leslie Mitchel a PUSD bus driver wearing a perky flower in her hair.
Leslie started working the shuttle service at 5 p.m. and guessed she’d get home around midnight. She’s been participating in the shuttle service for the past four or five years, about as long as the town has offered the service.
As Leslie rounded a bend to pick up her next batch of riders, she found that two-dozen people toting lawn chairs and coolers had accumulated in about 10 minutes.
“Happy Independence Day!” said one rider to Leslie.
“I haven’t been on a bus in years,” said another with a giggle.
As Leslie took off for the drop-off point at the end of Summit Street, a limo drove up McLane — another way to get to the event stress free, but a tad on the expensive side.
Arriving at the drop-off point in five minutes Leslie called out, “We’ll pick up around here. There’s four buses running tonight,” as she opened her doors to let the group exit.
The second stress challenge to overcome: the crowds.
At the entrance to Summit Street, Bill Broce, a volunteer for the Payson Police Department sat at a roadblock.
“Everybody has been real polite. Only issue I’ve heard of today was a smoke bomb going off near the golf course. Otherwise, it’s been good,” said Broce of the crowds attending the event.
Despite the big crowds, the walkways to anywhere don’t feel crowded and no end of activities greeted the senses. At the band shell, the band played “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” as couples bounced to the beat, some throwing their partners into the air. Children hung around the edges watching the adults, mouths open in awe.
The smell of barbeques mixed with the sweet smell of kettle corn wafted across the park as people patiently waited in line for food. At the playground, children scampered between the swings, slides and monkey bars. Even just before the show, plenty of prime viewing spots remained. Couples lying on blankets took up spaces next to the water, while families with canopies filled up the grassy banks.
Across the water, DJ Craig blared the tunes taking requests. A steady stream of passersby calmly walked by looking for people and waiting to be seen.
Shortly before the fireworks went off, a song came on that inspired folks to clap along. Interrupting their clapping sounded a sonic “BOOM!” as the fireworks burst over the lake in sparkling beauty.
For a full 35 minutes, the show went on to the accompaniment of patriotic songs and appreciative gasps. The display finished up by 9:35 p.m. and everyone immediately set to folding blankets, breaking down canopies and gathering children.
Walking over to the shuttle stop on Summit Street and filtering through the completely stopped cars on West Longhorn Road offered the only hint of difficulty in the whole evening. Lines formed early to get onto the shuttle, so any delay in leaving the park resulted in a long wait.
The ride over the hill to the high school parking lot ran smoothly. As the bus neared the drop-off, the limo drove past on McLane taking its passengers quickly home. No traffic jam slowed the exodus from the high school, unlike on Main Street.
When it comes to stress and traffic jams, seems like Payson can’t compete with the Valley — even on the Fourth of July.