By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Ballard Park became its own small city, as people came from across Northeast Mississippi to celebrate Independence Day with music, food, fun and fireworks.
Mike Jett of Guntown staked out a spot for himself and fiancampée Julie Moore at 9:30 a.m. Monday, well before the All-America City Family Picnic in the Park began at 4:30 p.m. The couple stayed shady and dry in a tent with a great view of the Ballard Park stage
“This is our first year,” said Moore, who recently moved from Arkansas. “It won’t be our last.”
“It’s a great event,” added Jett.
American Legion, Post 49, handed out 2,000 flags to the crowd before running out well before the sunset.
“This is our biggest year so far,” said incoming Post Commander Dennis Carlock of Tupelo. “We enjoy doing this every year.”
Some people brought their own patriotic colors to the picnic. Kim Stone of Booneville and her dog, Max, came in white and blue stripes to join her family at the park.
“Fourth of July is a big deal for my family,” said Stone, who began her day with the family float in the Booneville Independence Day parade.
Matt Ferguson of Ecru had his hands full balancing nachos, a polish sausage and his 2-year-old daughter, Emma, while the rest of the family sought out snow cones.
“We come every year for the fireworks,” Ferguson said.
Danielle and Tony Moore of Pontotoc, along with their kids, Kailey, Kimmie and Allen, were hoping to start a new family tradition. The whole family was decked out in red and blue denim.
“This is our first year as a family,” said Danielle Moore. “I came as a kid.”
The picnic is a long-running family tradition for Samantha Burroughs of Tremont, who was snapping pictures of her nieces as they played in the inflatables.
“The kids have a really good time,” Burroughs said. “They always have a really good fireworks show.”
One-year-old Brayden Floyd of Pontotoc wasn’t ready to play in the inflatables, but he did seem to enjoy the ride in his stroller while mom Tajuana Floyd and the rest of the family debated the best available spot to set up on the hill overlooking the stage.
“This year is special because it’s his first year to see the fireworks,” Floyd said.
Tupelo puts on the picnic, but it truly is a regional event, said Don Lewis, Tupelo Parks and Recreation director, who was expecting about 8,000 in and around the park by the time the fireworks display started.
“This is the biggest one-day event in Northeast Mississippi, and it’s all free,” he said.
Pam Short of Pontotoc set up with family and friends from Old Union Baptist Church on the far side of the soccer fields. Under two tents, they munched on barbecue and traded jokes about a missing key lime pie.
“We can still hear the music,” Short said, “and we have a front row seat for the fireworks.”
For Kymberlee Wells of Oxford, the picnic was a great way to spend time with her dad, Leo Wells of Tupelo.
“I’ve been here before for Juneteenth,” Wells said she strolled through the crowd. “This is my first time for the Fourth of July. It’s wonderful.”