The dangerous thunderstorms that rained out New Paltz’s planned fireworks display on Friday ended up doing a favor for the Town of Lloyd by clearing much of the oppressive heat and humidity out of the air in time for its own pre-Independence Day celebration on Sunday evening. Temperatures were verging on cool by the time a salmon-and-purple sunset faded into dusk and the crowds filling Town Park in the Highland hamlet were settling down for the spectacular half-hour sky show.
The partying had been well underway for several hours by the time darkness fell, with motorists being turned away from filled-up parking lots at the Highland Middle School by 7 p.m. From a makeshift stage on the back of a flatbed truck, the six-piece Orange County-based Americana Oak Band raised the energy level with classic rock tunes like “Piece of My Heart,” “The Shape I’m In,” “The Letter,” “Vehicle” and “Hotel California.” Whenever they took a break, a deejay from Mix 97 took over with recorded hits.
Long lines of festive locals and visitors queued up at the food booths and ice cream truck, enjoying subs and pizza from Coppola’s La Fantasia, ices and drinks from the Sandwich Shop, sausages and barbecue from Elia’s Catering, cupcakes from Batter Up and more. The Veterans of Foreign Wars handed out patriotic paraphernalia including red-white-and-blue pinwheels, leis and sunglasses. The Highland Hose Company Ladies’ Auxiliary conducted a food drive, while the Iron Riders Motorcycle Club sold raffle tickets for a “Wheelbarrow of Cheer” — $800 worth of booze — to raise funds for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
Kids found plenty of ways to burn off some of the sugar rush from eating fried dough while waiting for the fireworks, kicking soccer balls around, tossing Frisbees that lit up after dark and waving excitedly at a drone that occasionally whizzed overhead. For $2 each — a fundraiser for the Highland Public Library — they got a bag of popcorn and a turn at jumping in the Bouncy House provided by A Day in the Shade Tent Rentals. Or for a bit more, they could get a henna tattoo from the Tipsy Turtle or their faces painted by Meltz Art.
“I’m gonna get a beach one!” said seven-year-old Lily Jowers of Highland, pointing excitedly to her face-painting design of choice as she waited her turn: a palm tree curving down in front of one ear, with a frisky crab scuttling across the sand on the cheek and waves lapping at the other side of the nose. Her father, Tom Ruud, said that the family had lived in the neighborhood for four years and not only came to see the fireworks in Highland every year, but also made a point of catching all the other displays in surrounding towns. “It’s just awesome,” Lily agreed.
While the Ruud/Jowers clan live within walking distance of Town Park, another contingent of visitors had made a much more ambitious trek: About 25 members of the New York Cycle Club showed up with their bicycles as part of their second annual Fourth of July weekend outing to the area. “We’re staying at SUNY New Paltz,” explained the group’s past president, Neile Weissman, who had organized the cycling trip. “Some of us took the train to Salisbury Mills, Campbell Hall or Poughkeepsie and rode our bikes the rest of the way, while others came by car.” Getting a taste of an old-fashioned, small-town fireworks display is an unusual treat for the New York City-based cyclists, Weissman said. By special arrangement with town supervisor Paul Hansut, the group was given permission to ride most of the way back to New Paltz on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail after dark, he added, “lit only by our own lights.”
Whether they arrived by rolling or strolling, more than a thousand people packed the park by the time the fireworks show got underway. And judging by the collective oohs and aahs, cheers and applause, the pyrotechnics were well-worth the trip.