CHESTER - From Colombians to Cubans to Chester natives, Fourth of July revelers packed the streets and sidewalks of West Virginia's northernmost city on Friday to celebrate America's independence with parade floats, fireworks, music and rubber ducks.
The weather cooperated, and so did the crowds, as the Tri-State Area's premier Fourth of July festival unfolded into the late afternoon and evening hours, closing with a fireworks show at sunset.
City officials, including new Mayor Larry Forsythe, kept a watchful eye on the festivities throughout the day and praised the work of employees and volunteers.
Children and parents watch with anticipation for the winner of Friday’s duck race at the Chester Fourth of July celebration. The children were in the age 4-6 category. -- Stephen Huba
"A lot of people comment on how nice it is and what a great town it is," said Forsythe, who was elected mayor on June 10 and sworn into office on Monday.
"It's been an excellent tradition here that we've had, and I hope to keep that tradition alive," Forsythe said.
The festival, now in its seventh year, started with the 5K Freedom Run at 9 a.m. Friday with 340 registered runners and walkers.
"This was our biggest year yet. Every year we get a little bigger," said organizer Lacey (Cashdollar) Cline.
The race started at Crickster's Family Restaurant, went into the Upper End, continued onto Carolina Avenue and some side streets, and concluded at the starting line, Cline said. This is the first year that Carolina Avenue, from Sixth to First streets, was closed for the hour-long event.
"Last year, we had such a big turnout that it became imperative that we manage the roads better," Cline said, "so we rerouted cars for the duration. ... We had a good bit of help all the way around."
Overall 5K winners were Jaron Martin, with a time of 16 minutes, 22 seconds, and Rachel Hilliard, with a time of 18 minutes, 21 seconds.
The next big event, starting at 12:30 p.m., was the annual duck race. Organizers opened a fire hydrant at Third Street and Carolina Avenue and started the duck race there.
Participants watched their rubber ducks float curbside down Carolina Avenue to the Fourth Street finish line, where a large group of children and parents gathered and waited with anticipation.
A small group of visitors from Bogota, Colombia, watched with bemused looks on their faces as their hosts, Steve Fineman and his daughter, Shoshana Fineman, explained the concept behind the duck race.
Shoshana Fineman, a Hancock County native who teaches English at a private school in Bogota, brings some of her colleagues to Chester every year for an immersion experience in English speaking - what she calls "Lingo Language Camp."
Another non-native, Christopher Corea, 28, of East Liverpool, came to the Chester Fourth of July celebration with his 2-year-old daughter, Alicia, for the first time on Friday.
A native of Cuba, Corea said he's been hearing about the Chester event from customers at the restaurant where he works.
"It looks good. Everybody's friendly," he said. "This is our country now."
Also visiting for the first time on Friday were Tracy Harman and her daughter, Mckenzie, 10, who helped staff the East Liverpool High School Band Boosters booth.
"We thought we'd try something different this year," Tracy Harman said. "Everybody in East Liverpool knows about this. That's all they talk about."
Chester resident Kathie Kourpas said she comes to the festival every Fourth of July. On Friday, she was with her granddaughter, Aubree Wharton, and other family members.
"We always get involved in the duck race," Kourpas said. "It's gotten bigger and better."
Newell native Amanda (McPherson) Canizales, who now lives in Baltimore, said she comes every other year. On Friday, she was walking down Carolina Avenue with her parents on the occasion of her daughter Evie's third birthday.
"When you have a baby born on the Fourth of July, you have to split the holidays with the grandparents," Canizales said.
From the vantage point of her front porch in the 300 block of Carolina Avenue, Donna Lee said she wouldn't celebrate the Fourth of July any other way.
"It's wonderful," she said, sitting on her front porch swing. "The family all comes here, and there will be even more here for the parade and the fireworks. I like to watch all the kids and the people."
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)