The Heartland Lakes area is a popular destination for the Fourth of July - and for good reason. Festive flotillas, a grand parade and stunning fireworks are among the patriotic events that celebrate the nation's birthday.

Firecracker Footrace

Runners can pre-register for the 40th annual Firecracker Footrace, which will be held Thursday, July 4, with the start and finish at Park Rapids' Heartland Park.

This 5K race is a certified USATF fast course with chip timing provided by Pickle Events.

The fee is $30 until July 1 and $35 after that. To pre-register, go to the following online website: https://raceroster.com/events/2019/22811/firecracker-footrace. Register a family or group of five or more in one order and every runner will receive $5 off the entry fee. This will be automatically applied when you place the order. The cap for the race is 850 runners and walkers.

The race will begin at 9 a.m. A free kids fun run for children age 12 and under will follow the 5K run/walk at approximately 10:15 am.

Bib pick up and walk-up registration will be held at Heartland Park on July 3 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and on July 4 from 6:30 to 8:15 a.m.

This annual race is a fundraiser for the Park Rapids boys and girls track and field teams and boys and girls cross-country teams.

Parade

This year's Fourth of July parade in Park Rapids will begin at 11 a.m. instead of in the afternoon as was the tradition in years past. Around 125 entries are expected.

"Come and see some new and amazing patriotic floats," parade coordinator Teresa Leshovsky said. "Then enjoy time shopping, eating and making memories in downtown Park Rapids."

Parade entries can register by emailing teresa@parkrapids.com or calling 732-4111.

Entries should line up between 9 and 10:30 a.m. near the main entrance to Hubbard County Fairgrounds. The parade will start on Fair Ave. and go down 2nd St. to Main Ave. Parade entries will return to the fairgrounds via 8th St.

Three veterans will be honored in this year's parade: World War II Army veteran Pfc. Sydney Lawrence, Korea Army veteran Sgt. 1st Class Richard Peterson and Korea Army veteran Sgt. Maj. Bill Peterson.

Lawrence served from May 1945 to November 1946 as a military policeman in France and Germany for 11 months as part of the occupation forces. He was awarded the Army Occupation Medal and the WWII Victory Medal. He also was qualified as a sharpshooter on the M1 rifle and an expert on the .30 GNR. After the war, he farmed and then served more than 23 years as a conservation officer.

Richard Peterson enlisted in the Army in 1946 and retired in 1966. He served in combat in Korea in the 38th Field Artillery and was wounded in 1950. He also served in Japan, Panama and Germany. His medals and awards include the Parachute Badge, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Korea Service Medal with five bronze stars, Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct with five bronze stars, United Nations Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

Bill Peterson entered the Army in 1953 and retired in 1977. He served in Korea with the 24th Infantry Division from May to October 1953. His medals and awards include Korea Service Medal, National Defense, Republic of Korea medal, United Nations Service Medal, Cold War Medal with one oak leaf cluster and Army Reserve Medal with one oak leaf cluster. He also earned Good Conduct and Meritorious Service medals with the National Guard.

American Legion member Dave Traxler said the public is welcome to contact the Legion with names of veterans who might be interested in participating in future parades.

"It's something we can do to honor them," he said.

Traxler is part of the Legion color guard and said this will most likely be the last Fourth of July parade he will walk in. "I'll be 80 this year and have had the privilege of doing the military portion of the Park Rapids parade for close to 15 years," he said.

Traxler served over 27 years in the Air Force, retiring as a chief master sergeant. His two tours in Vietnam included 50 combat missions. He retired from the Air Force in 1984 and has been a member of the Park Rapids American Legion for more than 25 years.

July 4th flotillas

The Long Lake Fourth of July flotilla starts at 9:50 a.m. Gather at New Frontier Resort on the west side of the lake. Follow the north or south leaders as they lead off at 10 a.m.

The Little Sand Lake Association boat parade begins at 10 a.m., departing from Zorbaz.

To join the Big Sand Lake Association's annual boat parade, decorate your boat, wear a costume and line up at 11 a.m. at the northeast end of the lake, near the Lake Emma outlet.

The Two Inlets Lake Association boat parade also begins at 11 a.m. Meet at the public access.

The Duck Lake Association is planning a flotilla at noon. Meet at the public access.

The Fish Hook Lake and River Association boat parade has been moved from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. Gather at the Red Bridge and proceed counter-clockwise around the lake.

Pie contest

Beagle and Wolf Books and Bindery is hosting the 13th annual pie baking contest and auction. All proceeds will be donated to the Park Rapids Area Library. There is a $5 entry fee per pie, and the deadline to enter is 11 a.m. July 4.

Categories include double crust, single crust, custard or cream and juvenile (for pies baked by youth ages 8-12). Bidders will compete to take home one of the tasty pies following the parade. Bidding will start around 1:30 p.m. at Pioneer Park on Main Ave. Complete details of the contest and auction will be on the store's website and Facebook page.

Concert, fireworks finale

Known as "Minnesota's July Fourth Fireworks Capital," Park Rapids has one of the biggest fireworks displays in the area. Sponsored by the Rotary and donations from many individuals and businesses, it draws people to Heartland Park from far and wide.

Some of the best viewing locations are the Red Bridge, the area near the basketball courts and anywhere along the Fish Hook River. Come early and bring a lawn chair as the prime viewing spots fill up early.

As a prelude to the fireworks, there will be a community band concert in Heartland Park at 7:30 p.m.