Lighting up the sky

Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo Penny White holds her sparkler in the wind as her mother, Carrie White, sits nearby on a blanket, handing out sparklers to any child who wanted one Friday at Greene Acres Park before the fireworks display.

By Liliana Castillo and Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writers

Boats filled the lake, music filled the air and fireworks lit up the night to celebrate America’s independence Friday night at Greene Acres Park.

The streets around the park were lined with cars as the celebration began at 2 p.m. Friday with the Great Dairy Boat Race and a stream of live bands.

People ran with their children and pets from tent to tent that had popped up on the lawn of the park as a small respite from the heat of the day.

On the southwest bank of the lake, teams from local businesses readied themselves for the second annual Great Dairy Boat Race hosted by the Matt 25 Hope Center.

Jerry Swenson, event organizer, said 10 teams participated in the race and with other non-participating donors the event raised about $60,000 for the center.

The 10 teams competed for a traveling trophy in the form of an antique cream can, which the event’s creator Kent Ware found in a second-hand store. A placque on the can claims the can came from an old creamery company in Clovis.

“We were looking for an old cream can and (Kent) found this one in the first store he looked in,” Swenson said. “It was God’s design.”

Swenson said it was important for the trophy to tie back to dairies because the race was originally exclusively for dairies.

“Dairies are such a major asset to the community,” he said. “And we wanted it to reflect that even though the race has been opened to other entities.”

The two teams with the best times raced each other for the championship. Blackridge Dairy and Heritage Dairy made it to the championship race, both using rope to pull the boat back toward the finish line, with Blackridge beating Heritage by 0.8 seconds.

Blackridge’s team captain, Jared Wilhite, finished the race by running a flag from the bank to the finish line.

“I had a blast,” Wilhite said, still panting from his 25-yard dash.

Wilhite said his team finished third last year and was elated by the team’s win and said they will definitely participate next year.
“It’s a good cause and a lot of fun,” Wilhite said. “We’ll be here.”

Soon after the boat races finished, the crowd came for a night of pyrotechnic pleasure, the Smoke on the Water fireworks display.

The grassy shores of the lake were full of residents armed with blankets, folding chairs and sometimes patio furniture. For those who needed more, vendors offered roasted corn, ice cream and other food items while children helped glow sticks scatter throughout the park.

Along with the classic rock pumping from Rooney Moon Broadcasting, the event sponsors, the park was full of thousands who flowed in hours before in hopes of getting a good view.

The Balter family was well prepared, coming at 5 p.m. for the 8:30 p.m. showing with a cooler of food and blankets for husband Christopher, wife Ashley and 6-week-old daughter Mackenzie.

The family, stationed at Cannon Air Force Base, admits they weren’t always prepared for the event. The 2008 show was their first, despite three years of residency.

“The first time, we missed it because we got the time wrong,” Christopher said. “The second time, I got deployed. This time, it’s a charm.”

The family was among the thousands treated to an approximate 15 minutes of fireworks accompanied by patriotic music. Though they’re used to firework shows, having worked at Disneyland when they grew up in California, the Balters could see Smoke on the Water as something special for years to come.

“We have family out here,” Ashley Balter said, “so it’s a good place to celebrate.”