On Martha’s Vineyard Islanders and vacationers — thousands of them — celebrated the Fourth of July on a day packed with parades, picnics and fireworks.

Small parades early in the day served as a warmup of sorts for the big parade that would be held in Edgartown later on.

The children’s parade in the Oak Bluffs Camp Ground kicked off just after 10 a.m. with the Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem.

Robby Reeves, age six, rode a bike with training wheels and orange rims. His cheeks were painted with stars, his feet clad in Batman crocs. He blew on a kazoo as his dad Rob pulled the bike by the handlebars.

Asked what he liked about being in a parade, he said “Getting this,” gesturing to his new kazoo, “this,” gesturing to his blue Mardi Gras beads, “and these,” gesturing to his face paint stars.

He said when on-Island he likes to “go to the pirate ship, go fishing, go out to dinner. Sometimes I run around and fly kites.”

In Aquinnah Old South Road was the place to be for families and townies in late morning, when the 17th annual neighborhood parade assembled.

The town fire department was on hand — not for a fire but for fun and education as kids climbed in and around one of the fire trucks.

Arlen Roth played the national anthem on guitar, and longtime parade organizer Tom Murphy stood on a rock to get everyone’s attention.

“This is a big deal! He’s played with Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, he’s our neighbor here on Old South Road,” he enthused.

Then the parade got under way. Led by grand marshal Ronnie Low, people piled into classic cars, old jeeps, new trucks and golf carts. Kids threw salt water taffy and beads to onlookers. The procession ended at Philbin Beach, where there was a kids’ treasure hunt for candy.

Mr. Murphy watched it all and recalled the parade’s early days one decade and seven years ago.

“This all started with six kids walking down Old South Road banging pots and pans and going to the beach,” he said. This year, he said, “We didn’t have enough doughnuts to feed everybody.”
Earlier in the day in Edgartown the sun was rising over the harbor, burning off the fog outside the Dock street coffee shop.

Eddie Smith, mason, lifelong Islander and former volunteer firefighter, ordered a breakfast sandwich to go.

“I love the Fourth of July, especially out on the water,” he said describing plans to take his daughter out. “And then we’ll come back and try to get a space for the fireworks.”
 He paused to reflect for a moment on the state of America.

“I think it’s going to be okay. There’s a lot going on, but overall I think the country’s made a turn. Whether it’s good or bad, who knows?”

A few miles up the road at Inkwell Beach in Oak Bluffs, the Polar Bears dove head first into their 73rd year of celebrating freedom, friendship and exercise.

The morning sun rippled across a calm sound as 62 Polar Bears gathered in a circle in the water. By long tradition, the event begins every year on the Fourth of July and runs until Labor Day.

“It all started with a group of black women,” said Brenda Davenport. “Back then it was just a group of friends getting together . . . today it’s the same,” she added.

“It’s about gathering, reconnection, renewal. . ." said Makani Themba.

After exercise, songs and a welcome for 18 new bears, a brief ceremony was held for the Rev. Arlene Bodge, who died in May.

Some bears swam out to spread ashes while others threw flowers in the water.

Not far away at the Black Dog Bakery in Vineyard Haven, Chris Alley of Oak Bluffs, Jesse Ausubel of Oak Bluffs and Manhattan and Bob Drogin of West Tisbury and Silver Spring, Md., sat at a corner table, their coffee cups nearly empty. Mr. Ausubel produced a large bag of cherries to share. He had spent the morning harvesting them from his own trees. The three men have known each other for 10 years. They meet on Thursday mornings to “solve the world’s problems,” Mr. Alley said.

Asked to reflect on the state of the country, they paused.

“The good news is we have peace and prosperity,” Mr. Ausubel said. “The bad news is the decline in manners.”

Mr. Drogin said: “We are a strong resilient country and we’ve been through worse. I’m confident the state of our nation is strong.”

Outside the bakery, Maggie Brown of Vineyard Haven and Tracey Ammentorp of Houston, Tex., were still in their swimsuits after a morning plunge. “I’m trying to stay in the spirit and celebrate, but I’m very concerned about the immigrants we have in detention centers. We’re not treating them like human beings,” Ms. Brown said.

Later in the day, all roads lead to Edgartown, where the parade steps off promptly at 5 p.m.

Come dusk, all eyes turn to Edgartown outer harbor for the annual fireworks display, which starts around 9 p.m. Popular viewing places include Fuller street beach, North Water street and Dock street.

Noah Asimow, Will Sennott, Holly Pretsky and Caroline Kaplan contributed reporting.

Home page picture by Jeanna Shepard: Camp Ground children’s parade.