Happy Birthday America from Buddy Bear!

Buddy Bear here: I love birthdays and one of my favorite to celebrate in Pigeon Forge is the good ol’ USA’s. In fact, did you know that this is America’s 238th birthday? I’ve already got on my red, white and cute, so pack  your bags and come see me in the Great Smoky Mountains for a great 4th of July Celebration! Here’s a rundown of the award-winning celebration activities for the holiday:

Our friends down the road in Gatlinburg kick off the festivities with The First Independence Day Parade in the Nation which is held at 12:00 a.m. midnight on Friday, July 4. This year’s parade is held in honor of military veterans and other U.S. military heroes. The parade route begins at traffic light #1A on East Parkway, turns South onto Parkway at traffic light #3, travels down the Parkway through downtown to traffic light #10 at Ski Mountain Road. Around 100,000 spectators line the streets, so bring your folding chair early to get a good spot!

Retired Army Staff Sgt. Heath Calhoun is this year’s Grand Marshall and will be riding the Rocky Top Sports World float. As a Wounded Warrior, Calhoun competed in the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, Russia in alpine skiing. Calhoun is a double-leg amputee as a result of injuries received in the Iraq War. At 1:00 p.m. on July 3, Calhoun will make an appearance on the Plaza at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and will be available to sign autographs. Also making an appearance on the Plaza is Osceola, a bald eagle with the American Eagle Foundation. From 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. the 100th Army Band will hold a free ensemble concert. On July 4, there will be a full band concert at 9:00 p.m. on the Plaza before the Gatlinburg Fireworks Finale near downtown traffic light #3 at 10:00 p.m.

Beginning at noon on July 4, join me at Patriot Park in Pigeon Forge for our 24th Annual Patriot Festival.  There will be a free Kid’s Karnival with food vendors and beginning at 1:30 p.m. enjoy free musical entertainment.  Then at 8:30 p.m. the country group Lonestar will give a free concert! Don’t forget to bring your blankets and chairs because around 9:45 p.m. a huge fireworks display will light up the nighttime sky. Free parking is available at the Teaster Lane Municipal Lot with free shuttle service to Patriot Park.

Also beginning at noon (registration begins at 10:00 a.m.) on July 4 is the Gatlinburg’s annual River Raft Regatta. Beginning at the Christ in the Smokies bridge off River Road and ending at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, unmanned floatables set sail to vie for prizes galore. There are two categories for entry: Trash (non-handmade) and Treasure (hand-made) rafts with awards for the top 3 in each category. There is also a Judge’s Award for the most creative raft and for the youngest and oldest participant. It’s fun for kids of all ages!

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