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By Connie Leinbach
Ocracoke’s slice-of-yesteryear feel is a sentiment many visitors to the island for the July 4 holiday noted during the two-day event.
“This reminds me of Fourth of July’s of the past,” said Ashley Brown, who with her mother, Barclay, viewed and voted on the dozens of sand sculptures Tuesday in the 40th year of this event on the lifeguard beach. “It’s family; it’s the home-town feel.”
They were among the many who gushed about the sculpture “Otter Banks,” created by the Binder family and which depicted a large smiling otter on its back. It won Best of Show in this event that has been going on for two decades and is open to children and adults, groups and individuals.
Ashley, of Atlanta, Ga., especially appreciated that only amateurs can participate and can only use items found on the beach.
The sand sculptors are an extended family from around the country who vacation on the island every summer, said Melissa Binder as the younger members of the group gave the otter finishing touches.
“Last night, we had a brainstorming session and came up with our favorite animal,” she said about the inspiration.
The Best in Show winner is determined by a peoples’ choice vote while the first through third winners in the age-group categories are determined by judges. Angie Todd organized the contest.
The Johnson family’s “Blackbeard’s Booty,” which featured a deep hole revealing a treasure chest of shells, won first place in the Groups 13 and Over category.
Paula Johnson said the group, from Pittsburgh, Pa., was celebrating its 40th anniversary of vacations on Ocracoke.
Emrick 5, a family from Conway, S.C., created a simple “Ocracoke 2017” message in sand that received second place in that category and became a photo op hit with many viewers.
“Every year we come here to see the big ones, but this one’s really cute,” said admirer Jessy Spencer of Lynchburg, Va.
“First in Flight,” an airplane by islanders Chito Guerrero and the Perez family, won third place.
Barbara Oelschlegel’s recreation of the Great Wall of China drew many admirers and won second place in the Individuals 13 and over category.
“It’s a true depiction,” she said, adding that she’s visited the Wall two times. Every year when the Oelschlegel family visits the island over July 4, she participates in the sand sculpture contest and likes her pieces to be educational.
“I like to inspire kids and to teach people,” she said.
Kate Highsmith, an art teacher from Concord, won first place with her “Over and Under” depiction of dolphins above and below the water.
Giovanni Capriotti’s large boat won third place.
Other sand sculpture winners were as follows. Several of the entrants wrote only their first names:
12 and under individuals:
First place–Alivia Lloyd with her starfish; second place—Catherine Todd with her jellyfish; and Willow with a dolphin.
12 and under groups:
First place–Ocra-turtles; second place—Sponge Bob, by G & O; third place–#Martini, by Lexi and Madison Martini.
Later in the day, Jeanette Coleman and Ryan Miller of Havelock, sitting along Creek Road, experienced their first Ocracoke July 4 parade, organized by Robert Raborn, who said there were about 40 entries, which was up a few from last year.
Preceded by the Hyde County Sheriff, the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department heralded the parade with all of their trucks and volunteers on display and sounding their various sirens, followed by people on foot, in cars, bicycles, motorcycles and golf carts and floats.
Della Gaskill, island native and grand dame of all things figs, was the grand marshal.
“It was the best Fourth of July parade ever,” Coleman gushed afterwards, especially noting the number of family groups participating. “It was hilarious, quirky, silly.”
Native Parasail stole the show with their depiction of the Disney movie “Moana,” replete with a dozen or so children, the movie soundtrack and Farris O’Neal dancing up a storm as the demi-god Maui. They won “Better Some Best of Show,” the top prize.
“It was so much fun,” said Chrissi O’Neal. “I don’t know how we’re going to top it next year.”
The Ocracoke Garden Center with their tractor and float camouflaged in a riot of shrubs and plants, won Best of Show.
In the Walk and Roll category, island storyteller Donald Davis, depicting a headless Blackbeard carrying his severed head on a stick, won first place; Ed Barbour as “The Lone Soldier” won second place, and Oelschlegel, participating in her second event, won third place.
Winners of the Wheels category were Morgan Arnold, first place; Keith Hardt, second; and Kathy Edmondson, third.
Ride the Wind Surf Shop’s float depicting surfing on the island won first place in the Floats category; the Sand Dollar Motel-sponsored musical group, playing guitars and ukuleles while singing “American Pie,” won second place; and the Pickled Pirate’s float “We’re Kind of a Big Dill” won third place.
The OVFD won the Community prize.
The Valentin-Fernandez family of the Philadelphia, Pa., area, had fun dancing in the old-fashioned square dance Monday night before the fireworks.
“I didn’t realize how fun it was,” said Felipe Fernandez as he caught his breath after the “Dive for the Oyster, Dig for the Clam” dance.
They, along with many others, commented that the fireworks show Monday night was the best they’ve ever seen.
Launched from the public boat ramp at the end of the National Park Service parking lot, an approaching thunderstorm around the launch time of 9:15 p.m. had some lightning competing with the rockets.
As the grand finale lit up the sky in a staccato of booms, rain began to fall, but ended within several minutes.
After the parade on Tuesday, Donald Davis relinquished his Blackbeard costume and told stories about his childhood on the stage at Books to be Red.
Sundae Horn, who coordinated the two-day event for the Ocracoke Civic and Business Association, thanked volunteers Debbie Leonard, Todd, Robert Raborn, Darlene Styron, Philip Howard and her own family who gets drafted into helping.
“Each volunteer takes their event and runs with it and makes it great,” she said.
She also thanked the locals and visitors who participated, especially the sand sculpture and parade, the latter of which seems to have as many visitors as locals.
The only negative Horn heard was about water from hoses sprayed and water balloons thrown at the parade floats.
Water balloons tossed at one spot on the route caused the sound system for the Pickled Pirate float to short out, said Justin LeBlanc.
Hyde County Sheriff Capt. Jason Daniels said he stopped some folks at British Cemetery Road and Irvin Garrish Highway from throwing water balloons, but overall the two-day event went off well.
“The Fourth of July was outstanding,” he said. “The fireworks went off good, and the people here were wonderful,” he said. “They enjoyed the festivities. There was no nonsense.”
Ocracoke School teacher Jeannie Owens read a brief biography about Della Gaskill, the parade grand marshal, and several elementary and middle school students sang patriotic songs.
Then it was off to the final event–a community beach bonfire at the lifeguard beach, attended by about 200 people roasting marshmallows and enjoying the evening.
“This was awesome,” said Sierra Briner of Connersville, Ind., about the two-day celebration, who, with her boyfriend Blake Adams, sister Hayley Muckridge and mother Denise Dubois, munched on S’mores and raved about the laid-back island vibe.
The Fernandez-Valentin family attended the bonfire and some of them sampled their first S’mores ever. As darkness fell, they and others made a new discovery–the nocturnal ghost crabs that live in the sand.
“It was the perfect beach bonfire,” said visitor Walter Kay of Salem, Va. “The light, the moon on the water, and everyone—kids, teens and adults—was having a good time.”