Heat doesn’t squelch Party in the Park

Michael Laing and Jules Richardson, of Lawrence, settle in with a portable fan and a game of cards during the Lawrence Originals Party in the Park Wednesday at Watson Park, Seventh and Kentucky streets. Food was available from Lawrence Originals restaurants with music and children’s activities until the evening fireworks display.

It was a hot holiday in Lawrence. But that didn’t stop members of the community from celebrating Independence Day at Watson Park.

Among those who didn’t let the oppressive heat keep them at home were Carrie Daly and Mike Lawson.

With temperatures reaching the triple digits, the couple decided to bring their daughter, Verona, to Watson Park, Seventh and Kentucky streets, for the Lawrence Originals Party in the Park.

“It was an effort to get out of the house, for sure, but we wanted to stop by,” Lawson said.

Daly is nine and a half months pregnant, but wanted to let Verona, 1, experience the live music and Fourth of July fun.

Verona tottered about on the grass as the couple gazed at the thousands of people coursing through the park: there were people slurping snow cones, munching on local food and sitting on blankets as they tried to find refuge in the shade.

Kami Wisdom found relief from the heat by plunging into a vat of water over and over again. Wisdom was one of several servers from Johnny’s West volunteering for a dunk tank.

“It’s kind of scary at first, but it’s fun,” Wisdom said. “It feels like it’s 5,000 degrees out here, so it feels good; if the little kids aren’t hitting (the target), we go ahead and pull it for them.”

Eighteen locally owned restaurants had booths set up in the park, selling anything from Indian food to burgers to funnel cakes and ice cream.

Jess Smith, of Lawrence, settled on a chili lime corn on the cob from Ten restaurant in the Eldridge hotel.

“I walked around and checked out the food pretty much right away,” Smith said. “I like all of the different businesses that have come out — the booths, vendors and the music.”

For Connie and Dave Bechtold, the best part of Party in the Park was the community atmosphere. Residents of Covington, Ind., the Bechtolds lived in Lawrence 25 years ago and decided to spend their holiday visiting Kansas on a memory trail.

“The town has really changed a lot,” Connie said. “Everyone is so welcoming, even to us out-of-towners.”

The Bechtolds planned to relax on their blanket near a shade tree until the fireworks started, hoping they would be able to see without moving.

Daly and Lawson had a different plan.

“We’re going to walk around for a while, hang out, then try to find more air conditioning,” Lawson said.