The other night, my husband, Jon, and I took our children — Peyton, 5, and Carson, 3 — downtown for some carnival fun: rides, games, prizes, and, of course, some cotton candy.
Excitement and laughter filled downtown Coast Guard City USA that night — just as it does every night during Grand Haven’s annual Coast Guard Festival.
“It looks so pretty from up here,” Peyton said while she hung out at the very top of the Ferris Wheel in a pink gondola.
“Yes, it sure does,” I said, smiling with pride as we observed the throngs of people who traveled to our city just to be part of the party.
Every summer, Grand Haven’s waterfront cityscape becomes a kaleidoscope of the masses venturing the sights and sounds of Coast Guard Festival week.
Experiencing the festival is different for everyone. For me, it’s a time when our residents bring unity to our city for an entire week, honoring one of the country’s finest organizations: the U.S. Coast Guard.
For one summer week, our city comes alive with music, entertainment, parades, fireworks, ship tours, carnival rides and games, an art show, food booths, activities for people of all ages — and, of course, events commemorating the men and women of the Coast Guard. Hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to our small city to take part in the celebration.
Some local residents avoid the chaotic downtown during the festival week as much as possible. Lots of traffic, lots of crowds, not enough parking and lines everywhere. They would rather let the 300,000 to 400,000 tourists who are estimated to flood our town take part in the weeklong activities, and return when it shrinks back to its typical population of about 10,000 residents. And that is OK.
For others, such as myself, I take pride in our city during this celebratory week. I look forward to it every year as it is my favorite week in Grand Haven. I would not want to be anywhere else during festival week.
While I grew up near Detroit, I have lived in the Tri-Cities for more than 10 years and consider myself a Grand Havenite.
I never understood how deeply rooted the Coast Guard is in Grand Haven until after my first few years of living here. It is truly remarkable the community pride that is so vibrantly emitted in the Tri-Cities and in our residents.
Now, as a parent, my children are beginning to see the enthusiasm and delight of Coast Guard week and why we are Coast Guard City USA.
Come Saturday night, when the fireworks show casts a rainbow of twinkling lights in the harbor sky, we will “ooh” and “aww” with the thousands of others gathered downtown for the festival’s renowned honorary conclusion.
Whether you are someone who stays away from the chaos during Coast Guard Festival, or are like me and relish in the festival’s fervent spirit, Grand Haven is a symbolic Michigan beauty — and I am proud to be part of it.