For many revelers in the Boulder County area, celebrating America's independence was an all-day affair Thursday that involved swimming, grilling and parades during the day and fireworks at night.
Just take it from 6-year-old Ian Guedelhoefer. The tiny Boulderite took in a parade in his South Table Mesa neighborhood with his mom and sister on Thursday morning, helped out with some yard work in the afternoon and joined thousands of people in the Folsom Field stands in the evening for his first-ever in person fireworks display.
"The kids have never seen fireworks on the Fourth of July, so we thought we'd come out and take 'em all in," Ian's mom, Laura Guedelhoefer, said as Ian and his sister, Kayla, 3, playfully tossed paper airplanes around before the display began. "Honestly, I'm hoping we make it through the whole thing without someone getting scared."
While Ian had yet to watch his first shell explode in a blaze of patriotic glory, he already decided his favorite part of the Fourth of July 2013 was the fire engine in his neighborhood parade.
Mixed reviews for family-friendly approach at Boulder Rez
Red, white and blue swimwear was all the rage at Boulder Reservoir on Thursday, as an estimated 2,000 people enjoyed live music, took part in a volleyball tournament and celebrated the Fourth of July in sun-soaked style.
Following policy changes this year that included a ban on outside alcohol and an increase in admission prices, attendance was certainly lower at the reservoir than on Independence Days past. But for many families the new rules and a host of added kid-friendly features such as a bouncy house combined to make for a perfect holiday atmosphere.
Jasmin Smith, of Boulder, made her first Independence Day visit to the reservoir this year, bringing her husband and soon-to-be-2-year-old son, Oscar, with her.
"We had planned on just coming to the beach today anyway, and then we heard about the bouncy house and the live band and everything else, so it sounded like a good deal," Smith said, adding that Oscar was big fan of the bouncy house. "It was just a fun day in the sun."
Boulder resident Kelly Vaccarelli, who swam at the reservoir with her husband Thursday, said she liked seeing kids and families having fun, but felt the city's crackdown on outside alcohol went a little too far.
"I mean, we fund this place, we pay for this place. It's the same thing at Folsom Field," she said. "Boulder becomes more and more restrictive over time."
While turnout at the reservoir wasn't near the 8,000 to 10,000 estimated from last Fourth of July, Boulder Reservoir Manager Stacy Cole said she was impressed by how many families turned out for the first year of the re-styled celebration. She also reported very few issues with people sneaking in their own alcohol.
"I was very surprised at the large number of families that showed up. I thought this year would be more of a transition year," Cole said. "I think it reflects the city values a little more if it is a family-focused event, and we wanted to cut back on the overconsumption of alcohol that has happened in the past."
The reservoir's beer garden was naturally a popular stop for many people, especially after a lightning warning temporarily shut down the swim beach for safety purposes about 2 p.m. The garden served ice-cold Upslope Brewing Co. drafts, which started at $3 apiece, but went up to $5 after 2 p.m.
The beer garden was also home to a volleyball tournament.
Dalen Fink, 21, was part of the "Dream Team" in the tournament, a group of out-of-state visitors who met during the Fourth of July event. Fink, a University of Kansas student who is working as an intern for Encana Corp. in Parachute this summer, said he learned about the celebration online and showed up early enough to win the 5K footrace in the morning.
"The highlight would be meeting new people, enjoying nice weather and good competition," he said of the event.
North Boulder County communities celebrate Independence
Elsewhere in Boulder County, America's birthday was celebrated with concerts, picnics and parades.
Longmont celebrated with its Fourth of July community picnic in Thompson Park -- a mix of citywide backyard barbecue and an outdoor concert by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra.
Plenty of folks packed in to set up picnics and listen to the music, though two places were conspicuously avoided: the warm, shadeless area directly in front of the orchestra, and a taped-off area where a high tree branch had snapped at 9 a.m. but had not yet fallen.
Since the Thompson Park celebration includes a picnic contest with small prizes, eating can be serious business.
The Smotts and Kunselman family, for example, set up an "Honoring Our Heroes" display with details on the family's veterans going back to the French and Indian War. Another entrant, "Life, Liberty and Longmont," included locally named items such as Sunset Sliders or Roosevelt Fruit Salad, as well as a "Kanemoto Kids Krafts" table to keep younger picnickers busy.
At times, the picnic was a mini-reunion as neighbor visited neighbor and former residents came back to visit.
"I think it's awesome that Longmont does this," said Mikki Stinnett, of Denver, who came out with 18 relatives from across the country. "The crowd is just so polite, everyone gets along so well. It's what you come to Longmont for."
The Fourth of July parade in Firestone drew quite a crowd. Now in its 11th year, "Fourth at Firestone" included live bands, food, face-painting and the ever-popular pony rides for kids.
The parade was the highlight as floats, classic cars and horses marched down First Street.
"They get all decked out and ready to go," said Missy McIntosh, of Firestone, as she and her red, white and blue-dressed children found one of the last shaded spots on First Street about 9:30 a.m. "We do the parade, the carnival and the fireworks at Saddleback (golf course). We'll probably pull out the Slip-n-Slide later."
As evening sets in, gazes turn skyward
By the time the sun went down, temperatures cooled off and picnics and barbecues had been thoroughly enjoyed, Boulder County residents began searching for the perfect spot to take in some of the area's numerous fireworks displays.
In Boulder the focal point was Folsom Field, as thousands of people flooded into the stadium from all directions.
Friends Michelangelo Bustamante, Nathan Pressnall and Trevor Lynch, of Highlands Ranch, came to Boulder to take in the Folsom show after spending their day grilling and hanging out in downtown Denver. Bustamante and Pressnall said they plan to spend much more time in Folsom in the near future, as they will be University of Colorado freshman in the fall.
"I love it. It's amazing," Bustamante said of the display, which he had seen from outside the stadium before but never from the stands. "I'm so excited to be a buff, and I love America."
Longmont Times-Call staff writer Scott Rochat contributed to this report.