GARRETT – Chalk walk entrant No. 42 Sarah DePew, 5, had a good start on her section of the sidewalk in front of JE Ober Elementary School on Thursday morning.
She was drawing symbols of major holidays and had just completed a vibrant depiction of the American flag when her mom, Chrissy, delivered a fresh box of chalk.
The pair’s day had started off with a pancake breakfast and swim meet, part of Garrett Heritage Days, an annual Fourth of July celebration in the small community.
Chrissy DePew has lived in Garrett all her life and has been bringing her three daughters to the festival for years.
They don’t even want to go on vacation this time of year, she said.
When her two older daughters, who are in high school and college, were younger, they used to make a list each year of all the things they wanted to do.
The list of happenings over the two-day festival is packed, mostly with free, family-friendly activities.
It’s all kid-friendly, so you don’t have to worry about leaving by a certain time at night, said Tara Lilly, who had just finished a plate of pancakes with her husband and three kids.
Lilly’s husband has been a longtime Garrett resident and has been coming to the festival for nearly 40 years.
Lilly remembers when her oldest son was just nine months old, and she brought him to Heritage Days when she and her husband were still dating. She laughed as she described how messy it was trying to feed the baby an elephant ear.
That was the night things really got started for us, she said of her and her husband’s relationship. That’s probably my favorite memory.
Heritage Days has been a decades-old tradition in Garrett. This year, the festival in East Side Park drew record crowds, said Carla Smith, who has been a member of the committee that organizes the event for about 16 years. The 5K run and walk had 220 entrants, and people packed the park for Wednesday night’s free live concert featuring Spike and the Bulldogs, Smith said.
It’s a great feeling to give back to our community, she said. Times have been hard; it’s nice to have some fun.
After last year’s drought caused the annual fireworks show to be canceled, Smith said people are excited for the show this year. The festival has strong support from the many community organizations that sponsor events to keep activities free or inexpensive. A stage in the park accommodated a show from a local dance studio, a talent show and pageant. Across the street in the parking lot of Garrett High School, 91 cars were on display for the cruise-in/car show.
The event and its community feel impressed Lorena Gil, 28, who was in town from Bogotá, Colombia, visiting her aunt, a Garrett resident.
This is something new for me, she said.
By early Thursday afternoon, Gil had watched a dance show and checked out the skills of sidewalk chalk artists. She said she and some family members planned to stay into the evening for the event’s finale firework show.
She said the opportunity to come somewhere and see neighbors and friends all at once is not something often found in a big city.
You get very good contact with everybody. I think that it’s great, Gil said.
For lunch, the Knights of Columbus in Garrett were serving barbecued chicken. Proceeds support youth sports and other community organizations, said CJ Lay, past grand knight.
You need to be a part of the community you’re in to show support for that community, he said.
Heritage Days are also a great way to welcome new members into the area who may have felt isolated in the small town, Lay said.
You need small town festivals just to bring people together, he said. It can only make your community that much stronger.