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FreedomFest

The annual FreedomFest Fourth of July celebration at the Port St. Lucie Civic Center draws thousands of people to sample the food and buy arts and crafts while listening to music and waiting for the evening fireworks. A children’s activity area keeps the youngsters happy. CITY OF PSL PHOTO

City packs summer months with
a multitude of activities

BY SUSAN BURGESS

Summer is just around the corner — along with grass that grows while you stare at it. So, take a break, kick back and relax with the FreedomFest, a raft race, traditional summer sports, a seemingly endless collection of recreational activities, camps for the kids, hiking, bicycling, boating and of course, vacationing until the kids return to school on Aug. 15.

“FreedomFest is the biggest event we have during the summer months,” says Jennifer Newell, spokeswoman for the city. “Thousands of people attend each year. There isn’t a full festival like this one going on elsewhere in the county on the Fourth.”

The eagerly anticipated Fourth of July FreedomFest is the highlight of the summer in Port St. Lucie. Held at the civic center each year, it opens at 2 p.m. on Independence Day and concludes with a bang as fireworks fill the sky with sparkling stars and a rainbow of drifting color at about 9 p.m.

Strolling from vendor to vendor in search of food, art, and crafts on the lawn outside of the civic center while live music is playing feels like an old-fashioned Fourth of July party where people greet old friends and and make new friends, too. Anyone who recently moved to the city will find this a great place to begin meeting their neighbors.

One tip: The parking garage is a great place to photograph the festivities below.

TRADITIONAL TRADITIONS
The Tradition community celebrates Independence Day early at Tradition Square on July 2 with old fashioned lawn games like egg toss, water balloon toss, and others, all for free. A DJ is planning a great mix of music including patriotic songs and a band will perform in the evening. Enjoy those burgers and hot dogs, roasted corn, fresh lemonade and more. The fireworks over Lake Tradition will begin about 9 p.m.

On July 2, an adult prom planned for the civic center from 7 to 10 p.m. is likely to get the month off to a good start. The prom, with a theme of “A Tiffany Affair,” is black tie and is for people who missed their proms in the ’70s and ’80s or want a “do-over.” More information is available on the Facebook page for Palm Beach Platinum Events.

Tradition shines again on July 3 with the Treasure Coast Great American Raft Race. Anyone who was around in the 1980s will remember the Great American Raft Race on the North Fork with its zany rafts and good times. It’s returning and will be held on Tradition Lake.

Homemade, human-powered rafts can compete in a one-mile circle on the lake. No more than 10 people are allowed on a raft. Onlookers are encouraged to bring squirt guns but (and this is mandatory) the police will not allow water balloons, so don’t even think about it. Go to www.TreasureCoastRaftRace.com for the many safety rules and raft guidelines. Registration deadline is July 1. The event, which runs from noon to 9 p.m., includes other competitions, food, beverages and activities for children.

PLENTY TO DO
The popular Comedy Zone and Solid Gold Dance Band are taking the summer off from their civic center events, Newell says.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of big events going on in Port St. Lucie in the summer,” Newell says, “our recreation department really shines with its many programs that can keep families busy and happy.”

City parks are available for everything from organized games and team sports to quick games of basketball or an afternoon at the playground for the little ones. The city encourages people to get off their couches, get outdoors and get some healthy exercise to fight being overweight or obese — something the state health department has set as a goal.

Also in the Port St. Lucie area, consider hiking the almost-flat trails at the Oxbow EcoCenter or at the Savannas Preserve State Park. Both feature education centers as well. McCarty Ranch Preserve, the city’s newest preserve, is open for fishing from nonmotorized craft or boats with electric motors, which needs a city permit. No gas motors are allowed. The preserve has hiking and unpaved biking trails as well.

SMELL THE FLOWERS
For landscape and flower lovers the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens awaits. The city has a grant to extend the boardwalk from Veterans Memorial Park to the botanical garden and the new Westmoreland Park — something to look forward to in the future.

There are several boat ramps or launches in the city. The newest is at the Savannas Preserve State Park. Just built, it meets federal accessibility standards for the disabled. The Riverwalk by Veterans Memorial Park has three ramps and a special lift for the handicapped, which is available by contacting park staff. Ramps at the C-24 Canal Park in the south end of the city provide access to the ocean.

“We have more than 40 recreational and passive parks that inspire our residents and visitors to get out and enjoy the beautiful environment and water access,” Newell says. “We also have really good summer camps for kids.”

On Saturday, Aug. 13, just a couple of days before the kids go back to school, the city, the Police Athletic League and the Port St. Lucie Anglers Club will host the 34th annual fishing tournament at the PAL building on Tiffany Avenue for anglers ages 5 to 14. The competition is divided by age and takes place at different times during the day. For more information, call 878.2277.

STEP LIVELY
The range of classes offered by the city is amazing. From youth ballet and tap to a variety of adult ballroom dancing (including the popular East Coast Swing) to country line dancing to fitness Zumba, it’s clearly time to move to the beat.

Fitness classes run the gamut from Silver Sneakers yoga stretch to cardio circuit to full workouts, strength and balance, the “Butts and Guts” class for the lower body, and many more. The city is living up to its goal to help residents improve their fitness, functioning and health. Fitness and dance classes for people with special needs are also available.

You can try powerlifting on a team or in competition, racquetball, tennis, or golf at the Saints Golf Course.

Pickleball, a combination of ping-pong, badminton and tennis played on an indoor or outdoor court with a tennis net, is a popular sports for the over-55 set that also appeals to younger men and women.

“I looked up how pickleball got its name because I was curious,” Newell says. “It turns out it was named for the inventor’s dog Pickles, who used to run and get the ball.”

There are other theories, each claiming the others are untrue. However, an interview with the sons of the game’s inventors found on The Pickleball Channel confirms the version Newell discovered. The game was invented in the ’60s.

For a closer look at the city’s parks, botanical gardens, community center, gyms, civic center and recreational opportunities, visit www.cityofpsl.com and search for Leisure Time — the twice-a-year magazine that describes in detail the events, classes, sports and facilities available.