July 4 festivities in Highlands kicked off with Highlands Boy Scout Troop 207 launching handmade rockets from the ball field. Boy Scouts and other children assembled their rockets near the dugout and then proceeded to the outfield to launch their creations using a combination of air and water pressure said Scout Master Caleb Bowers.
“This benefits the community,” he said. “People come together and it promotes being outdoors. Today the rockets have been flying really well.”
Bradley Burnette, 11, said his launch attempts included both successes and failures.
“It was pretty cool when my rocket took off because my other four attempts failed,” he said. “This one went over the fence. Next time I’ll probably make the nosecone a little stronger.”
After launching rockets the annual games on the ball field began.
Games included the water balloon toss, a sack race, passing a bucket full of water leaking from several holes, and who could put a frozen t-shirt on the fastest.
Lester Norris, director of the Highlands Parks and Recreation Department said that this event has been going on for approximately 30 years.
“It was a good turnout,” said Norris. “Everyone said Wednesday wouldn’t be good but it was great. I think the weather helped.”
He added that the field games tend to be a big attraction for families.
“It’s just some fun activities along with the spirit of the day,” Norris said. “Plus it gets these kids out and lets them have fun.”
After the games onlookers got to see MAMA (Mountain Area Medical Airlift) on the ballfield. People were allowed to look inside of the helicopter and ask the crew questions.
Many from the crowd then traveled to Kelsey Hutchinson Founders Park for the Rotary Club of Highlands’ free hot dog event. Though the hot dogs were free, donations were accepted. All money raised will go toward purchasing a seizure alert dog for an epileptic student at Highlands School. Rotary President Jerry Moore said seizure alert dogs can sense when their owner is about to have a seizure and warns them. The cost of a dog with that kind of training is approximately $17,000.
Moore said they raised approximately $4,000 from hot dog donations. He thinks they are near the goal when combined with money previously raised but didn’t have an exact figure.
“We’re going to make it work, we’re going to hit the finish line,” said Moore. To make a donation contact Moore at 828-482-2032.
Rotary also sold ducks for the annual Duck Derby. The club raised $8,500 that will go towards Rotary operations and future donations made by the club.
After eating hot dogs and listening to live music it was time for the Duck Derby on the bridge over Mill Creek on 4th Street. Hundreds of plastic ducks were released into the creek as onlookers cheered on their sponsored duck.
As evening began people were setting up their spots in Founders Park to listen to the Silly Ridge Boys and await the firework show.
Joyce Herring of Alpharetta, Ga., was at the park and has been coming to Highlands for 50 years. She said she would never miss July 4 in Highlands.
“There’s just so much fun going on right now,” she said. “Everybody getting together to listen to music. Children having fun in the water and dancing. This is small town America, we love Highlands.”
Katie Mussel traveled from Asheville to spend the Fourth in Highlands.
“This is awesome, everybody is so welcoming and nice,” she said. “And the band is great. They play all the songs I know and can sing along to.”
After the sun went down the firework show began. The show was sponsored by the Highlands Chamber and Visitor Center. Executive Director of the Chamber, Bob Kieltyka, said the show was put on by East Coast Pyrotechnics and cost the Chamber approximately $15,000.
“We get the biggest show that we can buy with the space we’re given in town and fire off as many fireworks as we can,” said Kieltyka.
And despite the rumors Norris mentioned about holding the events on a Wednesday, Kieltyka agreed that the day was a big success.
“The turnout was fabulous, way beyond expectations,” said Kieltyka. “What was really a surprise this year was the number of people on Main Street. It was absolutely jam packed. It was spectacular.”
He added that another factor may have been Glenville having their firework show early, and Cashiers show being delayed until July 7 due to weather.
Those that witnessed the firework show had rave reviews.
“I thought it was great,” said Highlands resident Jeff Stewart. “It seems like it gets longer every year, it was really good.”
Deborah Thomas agreed with Stewart.
“It was amazing, and thank you Highlands for putting on yet another great firework show and music to go with it,” said Thomas.
Casey Flint of Highlands said there was a highpoint of the show for her.
“I thought the fireworks were awesome, and the best part is when the highest note of the Starr Spangled Banner hit the finale started. It made my heart sing.”
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea