Thousands of Columbia County residents gathered throughout the county Monday and Tuesday to celebrate Independence Day.
The celebrations began Monday with Liberty on the Lake at Little River Marina in Leah, where Ivy Clements, of Thomson, put the heat on her fellow competitors in the watermelon-eating contest.
A rookie in such contests, the 11-year-old said she didn't employ any particular strategies while downing her juicy melon wedge to beat out the 10 other contestants in the 12-and-under age category.
"I just like eating watermelon," she said.
Watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests, three-legged races, horseshoes, sack races and live music kept visitors entertained while ice cream and dips in the lake kept them refreshed in the afternoon heat. Later Monday evening, organizer Pam Bugg said she estimated that 1,500 patrons on the land and thousands more in boats off shore took in a fireworks show along with patriotic and Christian music.
The Independence Day party moved to Grovetown on Tuesday, where a baseball infield at Goodale Park barely held those waiting in line for the city's annual free barbecue lunch.
"We got here at 10:30 just to get a seat. We're enjoying the food and the entertainment," said Gladys Keller, of Thomson.
City Councilman David Daughtry said an estimated 2,000 people visited before the day ended. Those who couldn't bear the afternoon heat didn't miss out on the fun.
"We have volunteers who carry barbecue plates out to our shut-ins," Daughtry said. "They're part of our city, too. We want people to see the benefits of being a part of our city."
The biggest crowd of the patriotic celebrations flocked to Patriots Park on Tuesday. The festivities were highlighted by the largest fireworks show in Columbia County, two stages with live music and an estimated crowd of 10,000 people, said Columbia County Community Events Manager Stacie Adkins.
"This is the 12th year, and everything's going pretty smooth," she said. "This is our largest event of the year, and it's become a tradition. It's a safe, fun environment for the family."
Patriots Park gymnasium coordinator Robbie Kiser said a record 219 competitors turned out for the annual pig toss, with Appling's Larry Simon winning the 50-and-older division for those pitching the plastic porkers.
"We were just watching, and my wife forced me into it," Simon said. "The key is use two hands, side-arm it and give it all you got."
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