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The American family celebrates a birthday

Despite off-and-on showers, thousands turned out for Charlotte's “Red, White and Boom” Fourth of July celebration that ended with 5,000 pounds of fireworks lighting the sky uptown.

It was one of many parades, picnics and other outdoor activities held across the Charlotte region to commemorate the 232nd birthday of the United States of America.

“Whoa,” said 8-year-old Dawson Carpenter as fireworks gleamed above. “I like those that explode, then disappear, then come back again.”

His parents, Todd and Kelly Carpenter, brought their two sons to the show. “I remember the excitement I had when we went to see the fireworks. Now I get to see it in their eyes,” said Todd Carpenter.

In a show of force, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police planned to add some 400 officers across the city.

Few arrests were reported through 11 p.m. Friday, as more than two dozen officers clustered at Trade and Tryon streets, and dozens more were stationed at the uptown Charlotte Transportation Center. Disturbances uptown followed previous July Fourth festivities, prompting more than 20 arrests in both 2005 and 2006.

Friday's fireworks followed an alcohol-free Family Fun Fest at Charlotte Memorial Stadium.

Troy and Carolyn May of University City brought their children – Jade, 10, Troy, 7, and Treyvon, 6 – to the stadium. The family usually goes to Carowinds but, because of gas prices, stayed closer to home.

“I want to run and dance,” said Jade, whose brother Troy wanted to try the Tug-of-War and the Sack Race.

Jasmine Tillman, 16, working for her grandmother, hoped to sell 1,000 funnel cakes.

“Everybody loves funnel cakes,” she said. “We make them hot, on the spot.”

Jimmy Witherspoon, 37, selling grilled pretzels, said he has been watching fireworks from this spot since he was 5. “What I like to see is the kids smiling and having a good time.”

Here's a look at celebrations around the region:

Tega Cay

Tega Cay residents – many decked in red, white and blue – gathered along the banks of Lake Wylie on Friday, cheering as they watched canoe jousters, kayak racers and boats parading in patriotic splendor.

Festivities started early in the S.C. community with a land parade featuring floats and horses.

Attention then moved to Windjammer Park, where teens and adults signed up to joust from side-by-side canoes at the edge of Lake Wylie.

People carried blankets, chairs and coolers, and settled in shady and sunny spots on slopes near the water.

Small U.S. flags lined the dirt paths. People cooled themselves with red, white and blue hand-held fans.

Jim Ziemer, wearing red, white and blue swim trunks and an Uncle Sam top hat, challenged his wife, Mary, to one of the kayak races.

As they paddled furiously, female friends on shore chanted “Maa-ree, Maa-ree, Maa-ree” and accused her competitor of cheating. Mary Ziemer won, thanks to friend Carol Dingfelder, who waded into the lake to block Jim's kayak from touching land.

It was all in good fun – Jim and Mary kissed at the finish.

“We have one of the best neighborhoods,” Dingfelder said. “It's like family.”

Others in the crowd of several hundred agreed.

“It's just a nice family place to come,” said Trisha Sanders, who attends every year. “You don't have to worry about anybody being drunk and weird.”

Hickory Grove

Despite turning 40 this year, the annual Hickory Grove Parade looked young and lively.

About 500 locals and visitors lined W.T. Harris Boulevard to watch the progression of cars, floats and musicians travel from Hickory Grove Elementary School to Hickory Grove Presbyterian Church. Children scrambled in glee at the rain of hard candy from passing vehicles.

“They're gonna be on a serious sugar high later,” said Mary Hawthorne, mother of three. “This'll last for a while.”

N.C. Sen. Elizabeth Dole addressed the crowd at the church, taking a moment to observe the passing of former Sen. Jesse Helms, who held her Senate seat for 30 years.

In addition to political speeches, festivities included moonwalks, music, pie- and watermelon-eating contests and a Hickory Grove pageant. Jada McElrath, 16, was crowned the winner this year.

Whitewater Center

The U.S. National Whitewater Center hosted its first Fourth of July celebration with two bluegrass bands, but, because of rain, postponed its fireworks until 9:15 p.m. today.

Since it opened in Aug. 2006, this outdoors adventure-sport facility has offered rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and wall climbing.

Hundreds of visitors took advantage of the fun Friday, but Lance Kinerk, director for marketing, said he wasn't sure how many came for the festivities.

More activities than usual sold out, he said.

“I definitely think this is the place to be because there are just so many unusual things you can do,” Mary Lewis said. “I brought my out-of-town friends here because it's a lot better than just sitting around and waiting for the uptown fireworks.”

Staff writer April Bethea contributed.

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