As far as I'm concerned, the next seven days usually are Alpena's best, and I expect this year will be no different.
From fireworks to concerts, parades to sand sculptures, Alpena - and all of Northeast Michigan - take on an extra glow this time of year.
Former State Sen. John Pridnia often referred to the "jewels" of the region and at no time do they glisten more with the sun's first rays of the morning than these next seven days. The Fourth of July always has been our region's "unofficial" homecoming for families, and with the holiday falling on a Thursday, it provides the perfect opportunity for either families to enjoy a whole week of fun, or at least make it a long extended weekend.
This year there are hundreds of reasons why this next week will be special - here are but a few.
*Today's Long Lake Lights Festival. While there is a full schedule of events throughout the day, the "showcase" of the festival is the fireworks display tonight.
*Speaking of fireworks, once again the region's residents came together and raised $25,000 for two fireworks displays in Alpena in July. The first of course will be held Thursday on the 4th, while the second will take place later in the month in conjunction with the Harley Owners' Group Rally in town.
"The entire community should be appreciative on how many people stepped forward and made donations, how many businesses donated and how many volunteers put time into making this happen, so we can have a better show than last year," said Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krawczak.
*This year's Independence Parade in Alpena will have a new format and look. The end result should be more uniformity between parade participants.
*Also new this year is sponsorship of the sand sculpture contest. The Alpena News will be hosting the event from this point forward after Alpena's Downtown Development Authority decided to step aside from the event. The highlight of every 4th of July afternoon is the judging of the sand sculpture creations as hundreds of residents flock to Starlite Beach to see the newest sand masterpieces.
*Strawberries. Because of the weather strawberry season will coincide nicely this year with these seven days. Area strawberries seem extra delicious this year but then again, I never have met a strawberry I didn't like.
*Music. The sound of music will fill the air often during this period. From the City Band to Summer Concerts in the Park, music will fill the area at bandshells up and down the coast.
*Hillman Street Drags, compliments of the Northeast Michigan Car Club, will occur next Saturday at noon. The event always draws a large number of both participants and spectators.
So fire up the grill, grab a hot dog, put on a little sunscreen and prepare to kick back and relax. The Independence Holiday is fast approaching. Enjoy!