COLUMBIA — A sea of red, white and blue covered the end of East Parkway Drive on Friday afternoon.
Bicycles decorated with balloons, streamers and American flags stretched across the road, as dogs decked out in festive bandanas and leashes walked around with their owners in Park Hill Neighborhood’s annual Fourth of July Parade and Picnic.
A swarm of colors sped by as children raced their bikes down the street, while parents walked their strollers and pets along the flag-lined road. Neighbors sat on front porches with family and friends, cheering on the participants. Some joined in as the parade moved along East Parkway Drive to West Parkway Drive and ended in Stewart Park.
Residents came out to enjoy the afternoon’s festivities, which included the parade, followed by a picnic in Stewart Park.
Everyone seemed to know each other and many greeted one another on a first name basis along with a hug or a handshake.
For some, the parade is a tradition in the neighborhood that they have participated in for years, while other neighbors are recent additions to the event.
The Park Hill Fourth of July celebration is thought to have started around the late 1950s to early ’60s.
Resident Clifford Tompson moved into the area in the early ’60s and said that he has enjoyed the parade throughout the years.
He said the festivities used to include a softball game and firework sparklers for kids once they had finished the parade. Over the years, children have dressed up in themed costumes for the parade, and it continues to be an event the neighborhood looks forward to every year.
Despite the changing residents and demographics of the area, Tompson said his feelings for the parade have stayed the same over the years.
“It really pulls the neighborhood together and has remained a small neighborhood get-together since I have lived here,” Tompson said.
Resident Jane Abbel has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and said her favorite part is the picnic.
“I really enjoy the picnic part of the celebration because it is a time that once a year all of our neighbors can get together with each other. It’s also really nice to meet some of the newer neighbors,” Abbel said.
For some children, the parade is something they prepare for weeks in advance. Cooper Felton-Bettis, 10, said he practiced the parade route multiple times. Cooper also said he decorated his bike well ahead of time and included more items than last year.
“I like riding my bike really fast in the parade,” Cooper said.
Although most neighbors chose to wear the traditional red, white and blue colors on Friday, there have been some unique costumes in the past.
“A few years ago, a former neighborhood association president dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. There is also the occasional Uncle Sam costume,” Abbel said.
This year, neighborhood association President J.D. Estes wore a large American flag print hat as he helped set up the picnic.
Alex Jones, 10, decided to paint his entire face with red, white and blue face paint for the parade. He said he decorated his bike with stars.
“My favorite part is the picnic because I get to eat and play with my friends,” Alex said.
Alex’s mother, Tracy Jones, said their family has participated in the neighborhood event for the past six years.
After the parade, neighbors set up blankets and lawn chairs in Stewart Park. In addition to the neighbors who participated in the parade, other neighbors joined the celebration in the park to enjoy the picnic as well as to catch up with each other.
“It’s great to be able to come out and see people we don’t get a chance to see all the time,” said Tracy Jones.
Lou Mazzocco was born and raised in the Park Hill neighborhood and now has his own home and family in the neighborhood.
“Every year it seems to get bigger because families that used to live here come back for the event as well as current residents,” Mazzocco said. “We’ve also started being able to invite people that live outside the neighborhood to attend as long as they come with someone who lives here.”
Before the food was served, neighbors mingled and chatted with each other while children climbed trees and played in the park.
As neighbors began to help themselves to a meal including pulled pork, coleslaw and fruit, chaos suddenly threatened as a leg on a table broke and dishes of food wobbled on the edge of the table. Showing true camaraderie, several neighbors quickly grabbed the table to hold it in place while others found bricks to brace it. The crisis was quickly averted, and people returned to their meals and conversations.