NORTH RIDGEVILLE — The darkening sky glowed with bright reds, blues, greens and purples.
And the fireworks hadn’t even started yet.
Kids — and many adults — lit up the dusk Thursday at South Central Park with illuminated glo-sticks, headbands and curved plastic sabers as a crowd estimated at several thousand filled the park in anticipation of the annual Fourth of July fireworks show.
While the bulk of the crowd spread blankets, lawn and beach chairs across the park’s grassy acres surrounding the fishing lake, some opted for more out-of-the-way, less boisterous spots from which to enjoy the show.
Erin and Dennis Wells, of Elyria, were making their first trip to town to catch the big show. The couple and their two children, Jordan, 10, and James, 2, decided to park their car and their lawn chairs just inside the park’s main parking lot off Avon-Belden Road.
Erin pointed to a soft black boot encasing her left foot.
“I sprained it last week and can’t put any pressure on it,” she said, explaining why the family didn’t want to do any excess walking.
“I found out I had a hairline fracture.”
Asked if the children were pumped over seeing fireworks, Dennis said, “We’ll see. They’ve been talking about it.”
“They were getting bored,” Erin said. “We told them the sun was going down pretty soon.”
Jordan was a bit uncertain over what to expect. “My friend said fireworks makes it rain.”
By the fishing pond on the other side of the park, Adam Montgomery and Stephanie Webster showed up between 7 and 7:30 p.m. with Adam Jr., 4, and Jack, 2, to stake out a good viewing spot opposite the far end of the lake over which the fireworks would be set off.
“It’s definitely picked up,” Adam said as he surveyed the steadily growing crowd as Adam Jr. waved a glowing saber.
Stephanie estimated this was her ninth year to watch fireworks at the park.
“The best view is over the lake,” she said.
Standing behind the foursome on the newly-laid walking-running trail that winds its way through the park, Jon Montgomery, Adam’s brother, and street foreman for the city’s Service Department, said the crowd was several thousand strong, but not as large as a year ago.
“I think Elyria’s show (Wednesday night) took some of the crowd last night,” Jon Montgomery said.
The new 1.2-mile paved trail was acting as a means of breaking up the crowd and making it easier for people to move around “without having to keep stepping over people,” Jon Montgomery said.
Live music blared from a bandstand where the pop group The Ray Bans performed, as lines of people were bathed in the bright lights of food vendors offering elephant ears, corn dogs, lemonade and other food.
Children lined up 30 deep to try out two bounce houses, while adults lined up at nearby tennis courts and grassy areas to take part in the first Independence Day Cornhole Tournament sponsored by the North Ridgeville Kiwanis.
Hundreds more avoiding crowds in the park chose to put up chairs or lay down blankets in front yards along Avon-Belden and Center Ridge roads, while more than 100 watched the fireworks from an expansive grassy area at the corner of the two roads.
Thursday night’s Party in the Park was the second in a row since the event returned to South Central Park after a one-year stay at Victory Sports Park in 2012 over safety concerns about the distance between growing crowds and the spot where fireworks were shot off on the far side of the park’s fishing pond.
Changes in the distance between crowds and the fireworks display area led to the show’s return to South Central Park, where it had been staged for nearly 20 years before the one-year shift to the Lorain Road sports facility.