Before the fireworks: Steamboat's Fourth of July morning celebrations unite families, veterans |

Before the fireworks: Steamboat’s Fourth of July morning celebrations unite families, veterans

Super Sam of the Yampa Valley Bank float, a.k.a. PJ Wharton, high fives attendees of the Fourth of July Parade in Steamboat Springs.
Shelby Reardon

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS —  From a morning roller ski race to an afternoon ski jumping competition, Fourth of July in Steamboat is not the nation’s average celebration, but this year’s activities still encompassed the fundamental spirit of America’s birthday. 

Particularly during such politically contentious times, the holiday offered a way for people to share laughs, sing songs and eat hot dogs around town. Some traveled hundreds of miles across the country to be a part of the day’s events. 

Before the morning parade, Chelsea Belot gave her boyfriend’s daughter, 4-year-old Emma Bentley, a quick grammar lesson. 

“It can either be good or better, not gooder,” she said. 

Belot flew in from Michigan to attend a family reunion at Steamboat Lake State Park in North Routt, which plans to put on its own fireworks show Saturday.

“We have always tried to do something together around the Fourth of July,” she said. 

A gathering of friends and family is often not without some mayhem, as Denver resident Kate Shulz experienced moments before the parade launch.

“We’ve already lost one of our kids,” she said, though she quickly found the 3-year-old wandering down the sidewalk.

A Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue fire truck kicks off the Fourth of July Parade in Steamboat Springs.
Shelby Reardon

“I think he found a piece of candy or something,” said her friend, Hayley Skaff. 

A Seattle resident, Skaff traveled to Steamboat for the first time to visit her Denver friend for the holiday.

“I can’t believe how scenic it is here,” she said, turning toward Mount Werner. 

Then the parade launched, and the spirit of this country, as well as the Yampa Valley, was met with applause and a confetti of red, white and blue mementos along the downtown stretch of Lincoln Avenue.

A deputy with the Routt County Sheriff’s Office walked near the front of the procession on horseback alongside military veterans in cowboy hats, a nod to the town’s ranching culture. 

Shortly after, a Steamboat Resort gondola cabin that had been renovated into a red, wheeled carriage rolled along the pavement

Local members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign War rode by on a trailer alongside a tank from World War II with Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American” blaring from a set of speakers. 

After the last float finished its path and turned off the main street, people dispersed, some to attend barbecues, others to sit and chat by the Yampa River. 

Kobe, walked by Lee Freeburg, receives pets from children watching the Fourth of July Parade.
Shelby Reardon

A crowd gathered at Eighth and Oak streets, where the Tread of Pioneers Museum hosted its 18th annual Pioneer Day Block Party.

Candice Bannister, executive director of the museum, walked around greeting people in a white, Victorian-style dress with floral embroidery. Behind her, a local band, Steamboat Swings, blared jazz tunes in the middle of the street. 

She described the party as a way “for people to come out and gather like they used to in the old days.”

Two neighboring churches and the museum offered treats to the public. People at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church grilled up hot dogs, while just across the street the Heart of Steamboat United Methodist Church sold strawberry sundaes and ice cream sandwiches. 

Perhaps the most well known of the party’s treats came from the museum itself, which serves up Routt beer floats each year. 

According to Bannister, Steamboat Fourth of July celebrators tend to mingle and eat lunch at the event before heading to Howelsen Hill for the afternoon ski jumping competition. 

“That’s kind of the locals’ schedule,” she said.

But at its core, Fourth of July is not about parades and hot dogs. It is an anniversary of America’s independence, declared 243 years ago and protected ever since by generations of brave men and women.

As the day’s various events and celebrations drew people’s minds away from the parade, members of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey program walked as a group to the veterans’ float, parked along Yampa Avenue. They each gave the uniformed adults a hug and thanked them for their service. 

U.S. Air Force veteran Buck Land turned to one young man.

“Thank you,” he said. “This means a lot.”

After about two years serving in the Korean War and another 35 years working of the U.S. Department of Defense, Land is keenly aware of what the Fourth of July means for him and his compatriots.

“It’s a holiday where we can enjoy freedom. I mean real freedom,” he said. “When you get a group of people together like this, I think that represents freedom, and I think we need to do this every chance we can.”

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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