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July 4th Celebrations Fill Arlington Skies

Neighborhoods, parks, country club spread Independence Day around county.

As he pitched horseshoes and waited for nightfall and the fireworks display at Barcroft Park, 58-year Leon Monroe had a simple reason for celebrating Independence Day. “Just thank the Lord you live to see another Fourth of July,” he said.

A few hundred feet away, Hassen Mia lounged on a blanket, listening to his friend Saleh Eman play the guitar as they watched their children playing in the grass. “We want to enjoy with the kids, celebrate independence,” said Mia. “This is one way to show freedom.”

Across the county, residents celebrated the nation’s independence with barbecues, family gatherings and of course, fireworks. The annual display at Barcroft drew 1,000 or more, while in North Arlington, hundreds more watched the display put on by the Washington Golf and Country Club.

Crowds heading across the river for the annual festivities on the National Mall made for a busy traffic day. Metro officials reported a 51 percent increase in ridership over last year’s Independence Day.

Local residents again enjoyed a relatively safe holiday. “It was very quiet and successful,” said Matt Martin, a spokesperson for the Arlington County Police Department.

Even with temperatures hovering around 90 degrees for most of the day, public safety officials saw few of the heat-related injuries that sometimes plague Independence Day Celebrations.

“THE BEST PART of these firework displays is watching my little girls enthralled by them,” said Tom Dillon, who watched the country club’s fireworks display for the first time this year.

Those who had seen the display before knew what to expect. “The grand finale is the best part of the night, hands-down,” said Centreville resident Chris Milauckas.

But before the finale, the display’s organizers again sent up another perennial favorite for some fireworks enthusiasts — red, white and blue fireworks that explode into the shape of an American flag. “The flag made of fireworks is definitely my favorite part,” said Darcy Gabriel of McLean.

The display drew awe even from the experts. “I can especially appreciate them, knowing how much hard work goes into it,” said Shawn Kelley, chief fire marshal in Arlington’s Fire Department. “You need an extensive knowledge of chemistry and just the right mixtures of ingredients to make all the intricate colors and shapes.”

Kelley and other Fire Department officials oversaw safety at the country club and Barcroft, which made for a long afternoon. Kelley was on duty from noon until 1 a.m. “I’m celebrating the Fourth of July by making sure that other people celebrate the Fourth safely,” said Kelley.

At Barcroft, Walton Duckett was also working hard on the Fourth. An employee of the County Parks Department for the last two years, Duckett helped make sure the park was clean and in good shape for the crowds.

“If we weren’t here doing our job, no one would be out here,” he said. As families filled the park, Duckett moved through the crowd giving glow sticks and American flags to children. “It’s doing a lot with the community,” he said, “Meeting a lot of people, different cultures, different languages.”

Not to mention, working outside on a warm summer day had advantages, Duckett said. “Fireworks, fresh air—it’s not bad.”

Sam Fox, another county employee working at Barcroft on the Fourth, couldn’t have agreed more. “It’s going to be great,” he said. “I coached my Little League team this morning, and now I come out and enjoy the fireworks.”

WORK WAS FAR from the minds of many Fourth of July revelers, though. “I celebrated my independence today by sleeping in,” said Gabriel.

Back at Barcroft, Monroe and the other horseshoe pitchers said it wouldn’t take much to have an enjoyable Fourth. “Throwin’ a little ringers, brother,” smiled Tony Lansdowne as he hoped for the highest-scoring pitch.

“You got to have the right flip to it,” explained Richard Logan. “It’s got to rotate just right.”

The laid-back atmosphere at Barcroft was just what the doctor ordered, said Jessica Wood, who came with her mother Erica, and her sister Melissa. In the past, they had watched the District’s display from the Iwo Jima Memorial, but the crowds became too heavy there, said Jessica Wood.

The family kept alive another tradition though—a “flag walk.” Each Fourth of July, Erica and Melissa take a tour of their Donaldson Run neighborhood to see who can spot the most American flags.

“I won,” bragged Melissa, whose 44 edged out her mother’s 42.

<i>(Additional reporting by Robert Dale)</i>