Amid overcast, threatening skies, the 44th annual Portage Lakes Boat Parade and the 35th annual July Fourth Fireworks extravaganza got off to a rousing start, safely finishing while ol' Mother Nature snoozed. When she awoke she lost her diplomacy and poured even more rain onto the already filled bodies of water and the soaked Portage Lakes area. Regardless, despite the risk of the boat parade being canceled, it cruised the home lined waterfront lakes before thousands and in style, just in time before she could drench us again.

Led by a sheriff's boat, its blue light flashing and siren blaring, almost three dozen artistically decorated, registered vessels showcased their pinpoint decorations for the public. Parade fans lined along the shores, streets and home-fronts, received a lasting thrill as the boats floated from one shoreline to another in a quest for one of the top five money prizes. At the beginning, the constant threat of more rain and possible thunderstorms may have kept a few boats from completing the course, but in all 31 competed from the beginning to the end, making the parade a grand success.

Even the sand castle builders, both adults and kids contesting for $375 in money and other prizes, finished in time before another downpour sent folks scrambling for cover. A multi-food colored sand dragon, built by Carolyn Frederick along with Frank, Sarah and Cody Kosa of Clinton grabbed first place and a $200 award.

Second place and a $100 prize was won by Marc and Sarah Hamm, Erik and Tiffany Cole and Alisha Talbert and their children for sculpturing a sea turtle. Third place and a $50 prize went for of a hippo sculpture and a $25 fourth place was won for an octopus sculpture.

The boat parade contestants, competing for $1,350 in cash prizes, finished at the state park beach where the winners were announced without delay and awards were quickly presented. A $700 first place prize went to the Vesco, Thomas and Bachman families, all from in and around the Portage Lakes area, for their “Toy Box” entry from “Toy Story.” Accompanied with music from the movie and filled with various “Toy Box” characters, it even had Chris Bachman dressed as “Slinky Dog” on a jet ski.

Second place, and a $300 prize was captured by Michael, Katy, Grace and William Boyle of New Franklin and Matt Maier of Green for their crowd favorite Apollo 11. Built on their boat was a 24 foot Apollo 11 rocket replica celebrating the 50th anniversary of man's first landing on the moon. The rocket was winched halfway up in order for it to be lowered whenever the vessel had to pass beneath the bridges during the course of the parade.

Third place carrying a $200 prize was won by a “Jurassic Park” boat and Fourth place with a prize of $100 was captured by an aircraft carrier boat. Fifth place and $50 went to a boat depicting a corn dog stand.

And then the Fourth of July finale arrived and gave us a show as only Dano Mundy and his gang of community minded dedicated citizens from the Portage Lakes area know how.

How do you continue to say year after year that once again they outdid themselves. I know it gets old. I know you may get tired of reading it, but again that's exactly what happened. It was one rocket exploding after another, showering the lakes with thousands of glittering, twinkling, falling stars and synchronized to music over Summit FM radio for thirty solid minutes.

In between there was a mini-finale followed later and ending with a grand finale that equals the likes of any show I've ever seen in Northeastern Ohio. Its claim to be the largest privately funded fireworks display in the Buckeye state is solidly justified and after watching this grand pyrotechnic display celebrating the nation's birthday it's not too difficult understanding why.

So excited and proud to live here, I must say I can't wait until next year.

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