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A festive fourth

Families head out to picnic, enjoy sun and Blue Lake and wait for fireworks
by: John Klicker, Marine Garrett Gould, 22, and his mother, Lorenia Rodriguez, pose with a flag he brought back from his six-month tour in Iraq. He is stationed at Camp Pendleton.

FAIRVIEW - The people who come to Blue Lake Park on the Fourth of July take picnicking to a whole new level.

These folks don't just pack a blanket and a basket. Oh no. At this celebration nothing is too cumbersome to cart onto the field.

Tents, hammocks, grills, kiddy pools, giant floating alligators - these were just a few accessories spotted at this year's Blue Lake Park Fourth of July celebration, held from 1 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, July 4, at the Fairview park.

Add the annual musical entertainment and one of the biggest fireworks displays in the county, and it's a wonder anyone goes anywhere else on the Fourth.

'It's nice here. It's inexpensive and the kids can do a lot of things,' says Beverly Peterson of Portland.

Peterson and her friend Melissa Daum, also of Portland, secured a choice spot on the park's shady west slope - away from the chaos of the lake but close enough to the playground to keep an eye on the children, in the shade and directly in front of the stage and the fireworks display.

Asked what they were looking forward to the most, Daum smiled. 'The grand finale,' she said. 'That's my favorite.'

Down the grassy slope a ways, Dianne Gruelle of Gresham was busy preparing a feast fit for a royal family.

'We used to bring our motor home, but we stopped doing that a few years ago,' Gruelle explained. 'Now we just do this.'

'This' included several large tables heaped with goodies, a circle of chairs, one kiddy pool with fishing toys and a group of extended family and friends that included so many little ones the adults were playing double duty keeping an eye on all of them.

This Fourth of July was a special one for the group, which had been affected more than most families by the ongoing war in Iraq. The youngest baby of the clan, 6-week-old Jozlyn Rodriguez, nuzzled her mother, Jackie Rodriguez, a soldier in the Army, while Jackie talked about her time in Iraq. Her husband, Rosel Rodriguez, is on his second tour of duty. He's stationed in northern Iraq and has five months left to serve.

It's been hard, but the family is coping well, says Jackie. At one point, Rosel's parents were raising the couple's oldest daughter, 2-and-a-half-year-old Makinzi, while Jackie and Rosel served in Iraq together.

'I come from a military family, so I'm used to it. I accept it,' Jackie says. 'Rosel is having a hard time right now. He was here for two weeks for the birth, but then he had to go back.'

The pressure didn't get this family down, though. The 'auntie' of the group, Linda Murphy of Troutdale, took turns holding the babies, including Jozlyn and Gruelle's grandson, 2-month-old Priveen Spencer. She was grinning as she cooed, apparently having a pretty good time on this warm, sunny day.

'We used to go to Corbett,' Murphy said. 'But they stopped having it for a few years, and we started coming here. We've been coming here for a number of years.'

Sponsored by Riverview Restaurant, The Gresham Outlook, Metro and Mt. Hood Community College, the event's many features, including the cool waters of the lake, bright blue paddle boats, a playground, open space for playing badminton or volleyball, live bands and fireworks, drew hundreds of families.

Even those who didn't know about the fireworks came out for the daytime entertainment.

One man, a recent immigrant from Mexico named Mareo, stood by the lake with his friend Gerardo. Asked why the chose Blue Lake for the holiday, the men said it has everything they need, 'the lake, good people, sunshine.'

Asked if they liked the fireworks, the men shrugged.

'They have fireworks here?' Mareo asked. 'Yes? Then we will stay!'

Others knew plenty about fireworks display. One man, Ryan Demers of Vancouver, Wash., said he came to get away from Vancouver's enormous fireworks display.

'It's just too crowded there,' Demers said. 'It's better here.'

As evening approached, a group of young men, perhaps in honor of the World Cup, took up a soccer match at the far western edge of the park. People hunkered down and dried off from their dip in the lake. Families corralled the children away from the playground to eat dinner. The bands started their sound checks and everyone waited for that first explosion in the sky.