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Small town, big fun on the Fourth

Cloquet native and unofficial historian Joe Peterson is the Grand Marshal for the Fourth of July parade this year. Peterson is thrilled to make his own little bit of history, and plans to dress in red, white and blue for the occasion. After facing several health challenges over the past year, including a tumor, aneurysm and a stroke, Peterson is on the mend and cancer-free, he said. “I’m just grateful to be here to celebrate with everyone,” Peterson said. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

The Cloquet Fourth of July celebration is still a small-town celebration at its heart, with things like the pie-eating contest, wiffleball and a host of other activities, but it's growing. This year the fireworks display will be bigger, the music will last longer and organizers are hoping plenty of people will stay home for all the festivities.

Cloquet's unpaid and unofficial historian Joe Peterson will be Grand Marshal for this year's July Fourth parade.

Peterson fell in love with presidential history when he wrote a fourth-grade report on President Kennedy, and his fascination with our nation's executive leaders has brought him to many special events, including inaugurations, the dedication of a presidential library, a State of the Union address and breakfast with President Bush Sr., as well as introductions to the various First Ladies, all the way back to Ladybird Johnson.

That love of presidential history grew into a love of all things history, and Peterson enjoys nothing more than sleuthing out a historical rumor about his hometown, and he's documented connections between Cloquet and such noted celebrities as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland and silent movie star Tom Mix. Of course, he adds, Cloquet High School grad Jessica Lange can't be overlooked.

"I've always been drawn to history, and it's brought me to so many events," Peterson said. "And I love to walk around town and think about what and who were here before."

Fourth of July events in Cloquet start early on Tuesday, with the Sawdust 5K race at 8 a.m. (see sports for more on that), followed by a one-mile race down the parade route in downtown Cloquet at 10:40 a.m. The Veterans Celebration Parade starts at 11 a.m. and will feature numerous floats, military veterans (including Pearl Harbor vet and Barnum native Don Long), the Cloquet Community Band, the West Duluth Drum and Bugle Corps and many more.

A few activities actually begin before the Fourth.

Stipes Carnival has a new home this year, due to the construction work at Voyaguer's Park. The carnival rides and games are set up east of Veterans Park, just below US Bank. The carnival will open for business Friday, June 30, through July Fourth, with wristband times ($20 each) from 6-10 p.m. Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, 6-10 p.m. Monday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, July Fourth. A new pay-to-play bungee trampoline will also open early at the park in the heart of Cloquet, opening for business from Saturday through Tuesday.

Following the parade, people are encouraged to make their way to Veterans Park via the Cloquet Area Fire District station (where they will have free root beer floats), for an entire day's worth of free family fun. Afternoon highlights include the Dash for Cash at 12:45 p.m. (kids dig in a giant sand pile for buried quarters by age group), face painting by Maura, wiffleball games, pony rides, water balloon games, bouncy castles and a blow-up slide and even more games — all free. Live music starts at noon and runs to 8 p.m. (see Page A8 for story). A magic show starts at 7 p.m. and the movie in the park, "The Secret Life of Pets," will begin at approximately 8:45 p.m. with the fireworks to follow at 10:10 p.m.

The Cloquet VFW will have bingo from 12:30-4 p.m. Speaking of the VFW, stop by the information booth and check out the spectacular quilt made by the VFW Auxiliary sewing group and buy a raffle ticket (or six) for your chance to win the red, white and blue fabric art. Crafters will also sell their wares in the park.

"We're excited for the Fourth to be here and share that excitement with everyone," said Alyson Leno, who works to coordinate the event with the all-volunteer July Fourth committee. "It will be everything you think of for a traditional small town Fourth of July, only better!"

The biggest struggle this year was finding volunteers, and while they're still looking, enough people raised their hands to make the day a go, Leno said, stressing that anyone who wants to volunteer should call the Chamber office at 218-879-1551 or even just show up at the information booth on the day and ask how they can help.

But that's not all.

Down the road from Veterans Park, the Northeastern Saloon will host its annual car show from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. July Fourth. At 4 p.m., across Cloquet Avenue from the park, the Carlton County Historical Society will hold an accordion concert inside at 4 p.m. The Beach at Pinehurst Park will hold a "pool party" from noon to 3 p.m. The helicopter rides are relocating to the softball field at Pinehurst Park this year, for those who would like to get an aerial view of town and all the festivities.

There will be free wagon rides between Veterans Park and The Beach from 1-3 p.m.

Find the complete schedule of events on Page A10 of this week's paper. Check the Cloquet Fourth of July Festival Facebook page for any last-minute updates.