The trees along Broadway are whitewashed, the tree limbs in Redbud Park are trimmed and you can almost smell the burnt sulfur from firecrackers wafting in the air. Residents here are seeing all the tell-tale signs that the biggest festival of the year for the entire county has nearly arrived — July 4 is nigh.

That means residents and guests will be getting up early in the morning for the parade, follow it into the park to peruse the vendors’ wares and play games, soak in some entertainment at the central stage and wait for the grand finale, a fireworks show sure to be seen from miles away.

“The parade sets the stage for the park activities,” said Debbe Ridley, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been doing it so long that it is extremely organized. I’d say we have more than 20 volunteers helping out in the lineup area alone.”

Entries simply show up at the staging area around the school and fill out a card for the parade announcer. Ridley said most entrants know the system so well that they show up without warning. And based on the number of phone calls she has taken from newer people asking how to enter, Ridley said this could be the largest parade in recent memory.

“It runs so smoothly. There is no lag between floats and no break time. It’s just go, go, go,” she said.

The volunteers will direct entrants to the proper staging area according to type: walkers, bikes/clowns, automobiles, off-road vehicles, floats, tractors and horses. Just reading the different categories is enough to spark excitement.

To Ridley, the holiday is more than just awe-inspiring fireworks and a showing of patriotism. She said Independence Day is a way of life for the entire city, so much so that it attracts attention from all around the state.

Organizers say that kind of attention means that entertainers from around the state have been practically begging to participate. The celebration will feature the house band from Toby Keith’s “I Love This Bar and Grill” called Plainview. And the gunfighters from Guthrie will team with the local gunfighters to re-enact the Marlow Brothers’ ambush twice during the festival.

The popularity has been a reward in other ways, also. In fact, “We’re excited about some news we got recently. We received notification that the 2007 celebration will be an official State Centennial event,” Ridley said.

David Murch, president of the Marlow Lions Club, said he and most long-time residents have such fond memories of the event from their youth that if they’re ever within driving distance, chances are they’re coming for the fun and nostalgia.

“We started planning for this thing July 5 (2005),” Murch said, showing how seriously organizers take it. The Lions Club is a prime sponsor and organizationer of the event.

“We want to make sure it’s a success, and I’m sure every Lions president feels that way.

“Marlow is the Fourth of July. We’re the small-town version of Americana on that day every year.”

Historical records back his point by showing that Marlow Independence Day celebrations began in 1892 with a town-wide barbecue cook-off, and Ridley said she has photographic proof of the size and scope of the festivals since then.

“The viewing area in the park is always completely covered by people,” she said.

Murch agreed, saying, “The population of the town triples. I wouldn’t be surprised if well more than 10,000 people go in and out of that park on Tuesday.”

And for this year, Murch said he was pleased to hear that the weather is expected to be exceptional.

“We put in our order for nice weather a long time ago,” he joked.

But if the weather gets a little hot, participants can take the celebration indoors to the Marlow Area Museum, inside the Mercantile building, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Museum exhibits further describe the importance of the celebration along with showing a history of the town as a whole.

New to this year’s celebration is a horseshoe tournament to take place on the 10 horseshoe pits that were installed only a few weeks ago. The tournament will feature three separate age groups with prizes every hour for each group and a championship round beginning at 5 p.m.

“It’s something everyone can do. You don’t have to be athletic, just accurate,” Murch said.

There will also be human bowling and so many children’s activities that they had to be split into two sections of the park.

“People in other cities and towns don’t realize how big a show this is until they see it,” Ridley said. “The whole town turns out to celebrate together. It’s always on our minds, all year long.”

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