Sunday, July 5, 2009 | 12:38 a.m.
Fourth of July coverage
Senta Lee watched with envy Saturday as her children, Alex and Sephora, barreled through an inflated slip-and-slide tunnel and into a kiddie pool to cool off from the late-afternoon heat.
“I would love to be in the water and just slide in the water and be a kid again,” she exclaimed with a smile.
Lee and her children represented just one of thousands of families that flocked to the Henderson Water Street District on Saturday for an evening of activities, food and fireworks.
With countless soirees and shows celebrating America’s birthday on and off the Strip, Henderson bills its annual festival as a family-oriented night at the park. The stages erected throughout the downtown area hosted a country act, a classic rock tribute band and the Henderson Symphony Orchestra, which also played along to the fireworks show.
A $10 wristband provided an all-access pass to a pint-sized amusement park set up in the center of Water Street. Attractions included a rock climbing wall, inflatable bounce houses, a water park with bumper boats, a slip-and-slide and a dunk tank.
Madison and Allyson Paulina, ages 9 and 7, were buzzing with energy after braving the dunk tank, which was by far one of the most popular attractions.
“One minute, you think you’re cool … then woooosh, you’re right into freezing cold water,” Madison said, her T-shirt and jeans dripping. “I’m soaked from my underwear down.”
Their father, Seth Paulina, said his girls had such a good time last year at the Henderson festivities that they decided to come back for a second round of family-friendly fun.
“They kept saying, ‘Daddy, can we go back to the water park this year?’” he said. “It’s better than the Strip. There are too many crazy people on the Strip.”
For Lee, who moved to the United States from Holland in 1988, spending time with her children on July 4 doubles as a chance to teach them about the holiday’s meaning.
“America has so much to offer to you, so many freedoms,” she said. “America is just grand. It was what I looked up to when I was little.”
Family and freedom were the two themes that dominated most revelers’ thoughts about the holiday.
“My brother’s out fighting for our country. How can you not have a better Fourth of July than that?” said Aaron Crosley, whose brother is scheduled for a third tour in Iraq this fall. “Without the military, there would be no country.”
Crosley and his wife, Megan, who also came from a military family, brought their 3-year-old son, TJ, out to see the crowds and the fireworks, which TJ calls “pretties in the sky.”
“We were really just going to stay at home tonight and watch it on TV, but we heard that someone was doing something tonight and decided to come out,” Megan Crosley said.
There were also plenty of options for those looking to refuel after an afternoon of fun and games in the summer heat. Vendors selling everything from funnel cakes to Filipino noodles and barbeque filled the street. Marin Nevarez, who has been cooking July 4 fare at events for seven years, said he expected to fry 500 pounds of chicken tenders and 1,000 pounds of French fries to fill the stomachs of the Henderson crowd.
Nevarez’s makeshift kitchen is staffed entirely by relatives, including his mother, aunt, brother and cousins. He said his love for cooking is all about family at its core, just like July 4.
“Family, it’s all about family,” he said, explaining, “My family, every Sunday we got together and barbeque, so as a little boy I remember always looking up at my grandfather as he was turning the barbeque chicken and he would have whole big pits on the spit in the backyard.”
At 9:30 p.m., attention turned to the sky directly above Water Street for a 15-minute fireworks show that was so close that smoke from the blasts wafted into the viewing area. Bursts of color from neighboring shows could be seen in the distance, but for many, a front-row seat to the Henderson show was the perfect view.
“They were the best fireworks I’ve ever seen,” said Breanna Demeo, 11. “It looked like a movie. It was unreal.”
Sun videographer Brett McAfee contributed to this report.