A Star-Spangled Independence Day on North Georgia Lakes

Written By: Carla Francis

Traditional Favorites Mix With Modern Red, White & Blue

Living in an area resplendent with lakes, we Northeast Georgians know that fireworks are best viewed over the water. The aroma of hotdogs thick in the summer air, perhaps a little pink-skinned from a holiday spent in the sun, we settle into our time-tested viewing spots for our towns’ open-air celebrations. From their blankets, chairs and boats, lakefront spectators are treated to twice the show as their landlubbing peers: first to a sky bedazzled with red, white and blue and then to its shimmering reflection below. Around here, a Fourth of July fireworks show on the lake is the pinnacle of summertime tradition.

But fireworks are short-lived, barely leaving us time to show off our patriotic clothing, to inhale a smorgasbord of Americana fare and to pay tribute to the heroes who give everything for this great nation. And so, while fireworks are the peak of Independence Day celebrations, the festivities don’t stop there.

Local communities host events throughout the entire week of Independence Day, ensuring that each of us has ample opportunity to celebrate our uniquely American holiday. From boat parades to fireworks to Fun Runs and 10Ks, our region’s lakes are the epicenter of Fourth of July celebrations. So whether your patriotic ritual is set in stone or you’re looking to start a new tradition, there are plenty of options to choose from without leaving Northeast Georgia.

Fireworks

If you love fireworks, count your blessings: many of Northeast Georgia’s lake communities are holding their Independence Day fireworks on different nights from one another, meaning that you could attend several lakeside spectaculars within the week. 

The Hart County Chamber of Commerce will host its annual Pre-Fourth Fireworks Celebration Display Saturday, June 29 at 9:15 p.m. at the Big Oak Recreation Area on Hartwell Dam. Make a whole evening out of the celebration. Beginning at 6 p.m., food vendors, patriotic music and kids’ activities will be available for event-goers.

Lake Chatuge’s firework displays are offered on July 4 itself. Choose between two Hiawassee locations: Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds or Sand Bar & Grille. Both shows will begin at dark, and it is recommended that spectators bring chairs to the fairgrounds. Sand Bar & Grille will also host “North Georgia’s Largest Corn Hole Tournament” that evening for added entertainment. 

On July 5, Lake Rabun will host its annual fireworks show at 9:15 p.m. at Lake Rabun Dam. The following night, on July 6, Lake Burton’s renowned fireworks display will take place at 9:30 p.m. at the south end of Billy Goat Island. The renowned boat-accessible fireworks show provides a lively atmosphere as viewers honk boat horns and whistle to celebrate Independence Day. 

Boat Parades

This July, three Northeast Georgia communities will continue their long-standing traditions of hosting boat parades.

The Lake Chatuge Boat Parade (July 4), is a local tradition sponsored by the Towns County Chamber of Commerce. Boats bursting with patriotic decor will glide along a designated route in view of cheering spectators. 

A trophy from Lake Nottely Marina’s Boat Parade (July 6 at noon) is coveted, oftentimes earning a distinguished spot on the winning family’s mantel. In fact, some families would be proud to tell you that they have several trophies, earned throughout the 20 years of the event’s history, on their mantels. Judging is based on “Grandma’s choice,” meaning entrants must do their best to impress the event’s founder, Carleen Doucette. Watercraft range from amphibious cars to canoes, from pontoon boats to jet skis, from boats owned by individuals to boats rented from the marina. “It’s just a day to have fun,” according to Moriah Doucette, granddaughter-in-law of the event’s founder. “It used to be red-white-and-blue-themed, but now people decorate however they want.” Expect boats bedecked in red, white and blue competing alongside Wizard of Oz or Hawaiian luau themes. Bring a chair to Nottely Marina or show up early and snag a gazebo to join in the fun!

Lake Rabun’s Wooden Boat Parade (July 7 at 10:30 a.m.) is a throwback to a bygone era of gleaming Chris-Craft and Gar Wood powerboats, many of which were brought to the lake decades ago and never decommissioned in favor of devoted restoration. This event is nearing its 40th birthday, making it an anchor of summertime tradition in the Lake Rabun community. According to Alan Price, Lake Rabun resident and parade “pass-and-review” officiant, the best viewing spot is from the Clayton First United Methodist Church boathouse. Price invites wooden-boat enthusiasts to join him at the boathouse, where a first-class view of the parade, patriotic music and a perch on a well-decorated boathouse will make you nostalgic for a bygone era of Americana.

Energize for the Fourth: Fun Runs & Triathlons

Many Northeast Georgians choose to work up a big appetite before indulging in their traditional Fourth of July backyard barbecues. Lakeside athletic events attract registrants in the hundreds, with July’s heat no match for the enthusiasm of the regional running community.

The Lake Hartwell Triathlon, hosted by Georgia’s Piedmont Bell Family YMCA, will be held on June 29 at 7 a.m. at Big Oak Recreation Park at Hartwell Dam. A “sprint” course (500-meter swim, 15-mile cycle and 5K run) and full Olympic course (1,500-meter swim, 40K cycle and 10K run) will be offered to the hardy participants. In 2018, hundreds of athletes competed, including the famous father-and-son duo Jim and Michael Sayih from Special Compass.

Rabun County has the good fortune to be home to two of Northeast Georgia’s scenic lakes, Rabun and Burton, both of which are hosting running events on July 6. At the Lake Burton Fun Run (July 6, 9 a.m.), runners will take-off from Moccasin Creek State Park and pound the pavement for 2 miles to LaPrade’s Marina. First hosted in 1984, generations of Lake Burton residents have made the Fun Run an annual tradition. The Rabun Ramble 5K and 10K (July 6, 7:30 a.m.) begin and ends at the Lake Rabun Pavilion, leading runners through lush mountain scenery. Proceeds from both races benefit local charities. 

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