From John Michael Montgomery to archery and watermelon eating contests, check out Thunder on the Ridge.

Lake Eva Park in downtown Haines City is expecting 40,000 people to turn out for the Thunder on the Ridge celebration on July 4. (Photo by Dave Raith).

HAINES CITY – There will be slice after slice of watermelon available throughout the day on July 4, turning Lake Eva Park into something closely resembling a massive watermelon patch.
The key to all that, Holly Carter said, is discovering which brave souls are prepared to consume the highest number of slices.
“It just goes by the slice,” she said. “It’s whoever eats the most. So it all depends. We’ve got about 30 watermelons coming here that we’ll slice into pieces, and we’ll slice those into smaller pieces for the kids.”
What this is, she added, is another effort by the Haines City Parks and Recreation Department to entertain the crowds expected to turn out at Lake Eva on Independence Day for the annual Thunder on the Ridge celebration.
Watching people consume slice after slice of watermelon is just one element of the fun, said Carter, the event coordinator for Thunder on the Ridge.
“This year we have a watermelon eating contest for children and adults, and the adult category is 12 and up,” she said. “The prize is $100 for the winner. We’re going to do several competitions throughout the day. It’s not just one competition.”
But it’s certainly not the only thing designed to entice the crowds to turn out for this free annual event – particularly since if past years are any indication, turnout should be in the 40,000-person range.
“We typically have 35,000 to 40,000 people,” she said.
Of course, part of what draws people to Thunder on the Ridge is the closing event, a massive fireworks display that usually lasts about 45 minutes and is set to patriotic music. Billed as Polk County’s largest fireworks display, it starts at 9:15 p.m.
The celebration itself, though, starts much earlier, around noon, and there will be food, arts and crafts, and live music throughout the day – including the featured performer this year, country music star John Michael Montgomery, an act that Carter said her department was thrilled to book for this event.
“We worked really hard to get John,” she said. “He’s working on a new album, too. We also have a great opening band for him, Jill’s Cash Box, and local favorites like Un4Giv’n and Steel Horse.”
The music starts right at noon, with a performance by Pearl 2 DaWorld. Other special activities throughout the day will include a unique offering by one of the celebration’s gold sponsors, The Archery Shop at Posner Park in Davenport.
“They have a store in Tampa and a new store in Posner Park, and they’re bringing an archery range here,” Carter said. “So you can shoot a bow and arrow at the range. That’s a new thing we have here. The store at Posner Park does have an indoor archery range you can go to, and they have a portable archery range they’re going to bring out so you can shoot a bow. It’s pretty cool, and it’s a neat idea. They actually came out for the Ribs on the Ridge competition (in February) and it was a big hit.”
Another addition this year is a bean bag tossing competition.
“We do have the National Cornhole Association coming here,” she said. “You can play cornhole when you’re here and compete in the competition. The cornholers will be set up on our tennis courts.”
With that much to offer, people who live outside of Polk County are already calling Haines City to find out exactly where they can enjoy all these July 4 activities, said Betsy Weddington-Aycock, executive director of the Haines City-Northeast Polk County Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“We promote it quite a bit,” she said, “because we start getting calls about it right about now. It’s not a Chamber event, it’s a city event, but we’re happy to let people know all about it. And they’ve got John Michael Montgomery this year. Wow, that’s going to be great.”
Haines City Parks and Recreation is encouraging people to bring their own lawn chairs to the event. Alcoholic beverages, pets and personal fireworks are not allowed. To learn more, call 863-421-3700.

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