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Soaking up July Fourth at St. Petersburg Pier — and with towels

Holiday revelers get a perfect view of the St. Petersburg fireworks from the observation deck at the Pier on Monday.

KENNETH L. HAWKINS JR. | Times

Holiday revelers get a perfect view of the St. Petersburg fireworks from the observation deck at the Pier on Monday.

ST. PETERSBURG

For many, the area around the Pier was a perfect place to spend a hot, sweaty Fourth of July. A steady stream of people — from teens with their arms around each other to fishermen in crushed hats to a bicyclist with a beagle in the basket — traipsed up and down the approach to the Pier. Some, like Gary Lambdin and Leslie Coop of Arkansas, saw the Pier as one stop on a journey. The two had already visited the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center and the Museum of Fine Arts and wanted to visit the Dalí Museum. They said they'd come to the Pier by following the crowd.

They were aiming to stay for the 9 p.m. fireworks, Lambdin said, but weren't sure they'd make it because they "never do."

Belinda Fair of Georgia said she was also hoping to hang around long enough to see the fireworks with her two sons, Austyn, 8, and Delon, 6.

"My dad said this was the best spot to go watch fireworks and everything," Fair said.

As the 9 p.m. start-time drew near, traffic picked up and parking near the Pier and Straub Park became scarce — leaving latecomers with hikes of 10 blocks or more.

Erica Shepherd and her three daughters, ages 3, 5 and 6, of St. Petersburg, deliberately parked several blocks away — around Fourth Street N and Second Avenue. Once the fireworks were over, she said, "we're going to check out the crowd" without having to worry about parking. As for the fireworks themselves, Shepherd said, "I think they were great. A good time with the family."

Austin Reale, 18, of Seminole, watched the fireworks from the entrance to the Pier. They were pretty good, he said, and there seemed to be more of them than in past years.

Others chose to celebrate the Fourth in a slightly different way.

At the TradeWinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach, dozens of children and families gathered around a 60-foot by 100-foot flag mosaic made entirely of towels.

The red, white and blue towels — more than 1,000 of them — are laid out in the shape of the original Betsy Ross flag. Groups of children then become the "stars" of the event and the flag by forming a circle and posing with star-shaped cutouts on their heads to represent the 13 original Colonies.

Ohio residents Dana and Sean Stoll, who were vacationing at the hotel on Monday, wanted their two young daughters to see the flag up close.

Then someone asked 4-year-old Ruari, who was dressed in a red T-shirt that said "America's sweetheart," and a sparkly skirt, if she wanted to be a "star."

"She was so excited," Dana Stoll said, smiling. "We're from a small town, so we have a red, white and boom celebration, but it's nothing like down here."

The towel flag project has become a July 4 tradition at the TradeWinds. Laundry crews began dyeing the towels two months ago in preparation.

The project is the brainchild of Bob McManaway, the hotel's director of plant operations and support services.

"I thought there had to be a way for those in plant operations to celebrate too," said. McManaway, 63, a retired Air Force captain, "This was our contribution."

Soaking up July Fourth at St. Petersburg Pier — and with towels 07/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 11:30pm]
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