WALKER — Michelle and Joe Tuchs brought their children, Joseph, 10, and Megan, 9, to CityFest, Walker’s second Independence Day festival.
“We mainly came to celebrate with the community,” Michelle Tuchs said. “We feel like part of the community.”
As people slowly trickled in Saturday to Sidney Hutchinson Park on Ball Park Road, many were dressed in patriotic, U.S. flag-themed T-shirts, flip-flops and star-studded swimsuits.
“It won’t get busy until about 6,” Walker Mayor Bobby Font said. Font said many residents were just waiting for the 90-degree temperatures to drop.
“A lot of folks just come for the fireworks,” Font said, adding that last’s year inaugural Independence Day event drew more than 2,500 people to the park.
While the city was ready to celebrate Independence Day in style — but two days before the official holiday arrives on Monday — municipal officials and residents had another reason to celebrate.
This year, organizers changed the name of the program to CityFest, to also celebrate the 102-year-old town becoming a city because Walker had finally surpassed the threshold population of 5,000, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
“We’re growing fast,” Font said.
Tara Zeller, who was born and raised in Walker, still remembers when the former town had only one red light at U.S. 190.
“I never thought it would be a city,” Zeller said.
“Back then we had three or four schools,” she said. “Now, we’re up to eight or nine.”
“It’s crazy how much it’s grown,” Zeller added. “It’s changing for the better.”
Despite the increase in population, Font said, he hopes to maintain the area’s small-town feel by hosting events such as CityFest, which was added after he took office. Now the city officially celebrates both the Fourth of July and Christmas holidays, he said.
“This gives you the ability to maintain a country atmosphere without growing apart,” Font said of the municipal festivities tied to July 4 and Dec. 25.
“It’s an opportunity to know our neighbors,” he said.
Megan Tuchs agreed. For her, the Independence Day — or CityFest celebration — meant being with family and friends.
“It means the day we got freedom,” Joseph Tuchs said when he talked about the importance of the Fourth of July.
As Walker residents waited for the evening fireworks display to begin, many took advantage of the food, the water slide, inflatables, face painting and other attractions.
Austin Bergin, 5, sat very still as Ray McCon, of Walker Baptist Church, painted his face to make him look like a wolverine.
“We’ve been here since 10 a.m.,” said Austin’s grandmother, Lisa Thibodeaux.
The family had gathered in the park, “to celebrate the Fourth,” Thibodeaux said.
Not too far from Thibodeaux sat Rose Pittman and Mary Johnson, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with an American flag and on her feet, a pair of red, white and blue flip-flops.
“It means a lot to me,” Johnson said of the holiday. “It’s one of the holidays I like to celebrate. When you are free, you can do what you want.”