Alderson 4th of July celebration remains ‘wild, wonderful, and free’

By Jeffrey Kanode for RealWV,

A celebration of freedom has descended upon Alderson as it does every Fourth of July, but the parade, concert and fireworks of July 4 are a culmination of more than a week of activities and festivities that are already underway.

Mayor Travis Copenhaver describes an Alderson Fourth as both “a big stage celebration” which takes countless people–especially volunteers–to coordinate, and a homecoming where people who have left can return to small town American life.

Archival photos courtesy of Briton Kirby.

“What it is really about is coming home to family and friends, taking a step back to the past,” Copenhaver said. “A whole bunch of people make sure the week-long celebration does just that: makes the 4 th of July what people remember when they were kids.”

Copenhaver estimates that at least 2000 people will descend upon the town on July 4 for the parade. That’s less than the 5000 people who traditionally come when the Fourth lands on the weekend or a holiday Monday. Despite a possible smaller crowd, the week-long July Fourth celebration remains a major economic boost to Alderson.

“This is the one time of year the motel is full, the restaurants are full. The businesses step up,” Copenhaver noted. The mayor explained that local businesses offer unique promotions throughout the week, particularly the eighty-two prizes for the “Ducks on the Greenbrier” rubber duck race. “They give back to the people who come, with the prizes they offer. Every business in town gives something because they
appreciate the people who come.”

While Alderson becomes consumed with the activities of the Fourth celebration, and the town staff takes on added responsibilities, officials must maintain their regular work, as well. “Our police will work tirelessly to keep people safe, in addition to their regular duties,” Copenhaver said. “The rest of the town government is the same way. We have to keep the water pumping too, for instance.”

Briton Kirby of the Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department serves as the media liaison for the Alderson Fourth of July Celebration Committee.

“I’m biased, of course, but I think our best event is the Fireman’s Rodeo,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s this
Friday night and we’re really excited about it this year.”

Held at the Alderson Memorial Football Field at seven o’clock in the evening, the “rodeo” includes tug-of-war, “bucket brigade,” and a “hose relay” featuring competitors who are fire fighters in the area.

Kirby said this sixty-second annual Alderson Fourth of July celebration includes some new events, including a softball tournament that occurred this past weekend. “We had eight teams. It was a great little event,” he said. “People came to us once our schedule was out, and said, ‘we want to do this.’ Well, every volunteer organization dreams of new people coming to the door wanting in.”

The Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department also sponsored a children’s bicycle race, which also happened earlier this week. “We had 28 kids, age 4-12. Each kid got a little drawstring backpack from the fire department. Each kid got a new bike helmet. The winners from each age group got brand new bikes. We put a lot of effort into that one,” Kirby noted.

Archival photos courtesy of Briton Kirby.

As in previous years, this year’s Fourth of July in Alderson will include plenty of live music, both local and nationally known talent. Local mainstay The Goodson Boys will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at the football field, and Mark Cline & Stockyard Parade takes the same stage at the same time on Sunday evening. The major concert features the Hobbs Sisters, who will take the stage at 7:30. Their
show precedes the Grand Fireworks Display at 10 p.m.

Another new event will occur Sunday in Glen Ray—a mud bog. “With Ronceverte no longer hosting a mud bog, there’s a big void for motorsports fans in our area,” Kirby noted. “We think it’s going to be a great show.”

Mitchell Thompson organized the mud bog. The twenty-six year runs his own businesses—Perfect Edge Lawn Services and Cross Creek Turf—and he has picked up a hobby—racing. Thompson has been racing competitively for nearly a year. He drummed up interest in the Alderson mud bog by speaking before the drivers’ meeting in other mud bog events he’s raced in throughout this spring and early summer. He
also printed out flyers and acquired sponsorship to help beef up the top prize–$5000. Thompson explained that Sunday’s mud bog will feature two main events.

“The speed pit is basically a drag race, just with trucks,” he explained. The mud race is a regular oval race like stock car fans are accustomed to, only again, the competitors are driving trucks, and racing in mud instead of dirt or asphalt.

Thompson hopes the mud bog will become another tradition in the Alderson Fourth of July Celebration. Even before this inaugural event unfolds, he is already in conversation with sponsors for next year. Though Thompson is reluctant to estimate the number of competitors who may show up, he said that in just talking to his friends in the mud racing community throughout West Virginia and the region, thirty-five and maybe as many as fifty competitors could show up to race on Sunday.

Drivers in the mud bog racing community become close, Mitchell Thompson reflects. “Some people I’ve met have become family, dear friends, people you just meet you can’t imagine your life without,” he said. Still, he said, those friends race each other hard, especially for a purse as large as the one out there for the taking on Sunday.

“Five thousand dollars is a very good purse for this area,” he said.

Both Mayor Travis Copenhaver and Alderson Fourth of July Celebration committee member Briton Kirby said that Alderson’s Fourth of July parade is West Virginia’s longest. “As far as we know it’s the longest. The front of the parade catches the end almost every year. You don’t think about how big a parade is for the beginning to catch the end. I walked the parade route the other day and Google Maps says it’s 2.7 miles.”

Kirby emphasized the community spirit necessary, and in Alderson present, to make such a huge event that is really a series of events covering many days, possible. He highlighted the work of both fire departments and the Fourth of July committee as being essential to the success of Alderson’s Fourth of July Celebration, as well as many other groups and organizations.

Kirby said people who come out to any part of Alderson’s Fourth of July Celebration should expect a down-home feel, evocative of Mayberry from the television classic The Andy Griffith Show. He also wants them to experience Alderson at its best.

Archival photos courtesy of Briton Kirby.

“I’m excited for people to see our town for its beauty. They won’t see another celebration better. We hope they make it a family tradition of coming back year after year,” he said.

Copenhaver agrees. He stressed the number of activities that are absolutely free—the Sunday and Monday concerts, for instance– and the relative low cost of those events requiring admission—five dollars for the concert and fireworks show on the Fourth. Invoking this year’s slogan for the Alderson Fourth of July Celebration, the mayor concluded, “Come down. Be safe. Have fun. Be wild, wonderful and free in 2023.”

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