When I first moved in with my wife (then girlfriend) over 12 years ago, it meant moving to Laurel. I never really considered myself much of a small town guy. "Really? Laurel? With the trains and the refinery?" This ought to be exciting.

I've grown to enjoy our little community and when I moved here I soon realized how much the 4th of July is absolutely Laurel's big day.  Sure, lots of small towns have 4th celebrations. But here in L-Town, it's bigger than Christmas, New Year's and Halloween combined. Many families here plan their vacations around the 4th. Siblings that have moved away always seem to come home for the 4th. It's part vacation, part family reunion and definitely a good time.

If you've never been to Laurel on the 4th, here's the rundown:

July 3rd - The festivities start to get rowdy the night before the big day with the street dance. Originally there was just one dance, hosted by the Jaycees. Then there were two competing street dances. Now we're back to just one. This year it returns to the Palace Bar and Lanes at the corner of Main and 3rd St. 3rd St will be fenced off for the band, Bucky Beaver Ground Grippers. Gates open at 6, band plays 8-midnight and the Laurel Dodgers baseball team will be hosting a BBQ for a nominal charge. Tickets are $7 in advance or $10 at the gate.

July 4th -  Depending on your level of hungover-ness, you can kick your day off with the Pancake Breakfast from 6 - 11 AM at Firemans Park (on 1st and Main). $8 adults, $5 kids. 12 and under and 6 and under eat free!

The Chief Joseph Run also starts bright and early on the 4th, near the Laurel High School track field. Start times are either 6:30 or 7 am depending on if you're huffing eight miles or four.  You won't see me here because I'm not a runner, but I hear it's fun?

There is a kiddie parade at 10, but the real deal, The Grand Parade starts at 11 AM. Get here early for parking and bring a lawn chair to plop down on the sidewalk.  The parade starts on the east end of Main Street by Mabel's Mexican restaurant. The route goes west down Main toward the underpass and then heads north of 1st Ave. The theme this year is Parade of Stars. As far a parades go, it's pretty big.

After the parade, you've got a few options to kill time before the fireworks. I've traditionally headed out to the river with my crew and enjoyed some sun, beers, water and maybe a nap in a floaty.  But the river is still kind of high and muddy, so I'm not sure that's going to happen this year.

Many people head over to Thompson Park after the parade or at some point in the afternoon.  There is a large variety of food trucks and vendors, crafts, and various other activities. People kind of set-up "camp" and get their spot at the park, with coolers and blankets and lawn chairs and just relax.  There are usually some volleyball games going on. There is DJ music playing on the loudspeakers with your host Big Moe. Every once in a while they fire off one of those super loud boomer fireworks. Supposedly to check the wind, but I think the firemen just get bored and like to light them off.

The highlight of the day is Montana's biggest fireworks display at dusk.  Obviously, you can see the big ones from pretty much anywhere in Laurel, but it's fun to enjoy the show in Thompson Park because they do a few special things, like the soldier candle salute. It really is a great time.

Other tips:

  • Park where you can.
  • Don't forget to drink some water.
  • Coolers are allowed at the Park.
  • Be patient getting home.
  • Traffic is a nightmare. Some people think it's faster to take the backroads back to Billings, instead of the interstate. Your results may vary.

See you in Laurel on the 4th!