Harvest Church heats up Castle Rock Park with activities

2014-07-04T20:12:00Z 2014-07-05T23:45:07Z Harvest Church heats up Castle Rock Park with activitiesBy NICK BALATSOS nbalatsos@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

It was the sixth-hottest Fourth of July in Billings history, but that didn't seem to bother eight-year-old Taya Johnson much. 

Taya waited in line for what must have been 30 minutes before getting her chance to scale the face of a colorful, inflatable climbing wall set up in the center of Castle Rock Park. 

When that chance came, she threw on a harness and exploded up the wall as if she had done it a thousand times before.

After coming down, she said it was her first time. She got her speed from climbing trees, she said. Her mom, Ketra, was pretty amazed.

The wall was one of many inflatables at this year's 12th Annual Celebrate Freedom event, which is put on by Harvest Church in Billings. 

Taya's mom said they've been coming for a couple years now. She said last year they arrived later, only allowing the kids a couple hours to play before the fireworks went off. So this year they arrived earlier, not expecting the heat.

At first, even Taya was upset by it. "She was crying, it was so hot," her mom said, referring to the inflatables. 

Then, a little after 5 p.m., came the rain. 

Heights Campus Minister George Burgin, who directs outreach activities, said the "rain almost emptied the place." 

Instead of leaving, Taya's mom said they took cover under a tree.

"We didn't want to give up our parking spot," she said, adding that it was just right across the street. Besides, "It didn't last too long," she said. 

About a half-hour later, the sun came out and people funneled back into the park. The Johnsons were glad they didn't leave. 

Along with the inflatables, there was live music, a face-painting booth and cheap snacks. There were root beer floats for 50 cents and hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst for four dollars. 

Craig Kittock and his wife, Becca, having just moved to Billings in September, said they didn't know much about the event before coming.

"We didn't hear much, just that there were fireworks and so we said 'Let's go,'" the husband said. 

With their baby Abby in a stroller in front of them, they said they especially liked that there was a toddler area.

They said the heat wasn't much of a bother. Coming from Minnesota, they counted the lack of humidity as a blessing. 

The Kittocks came with their friends from church, Thomas and Melissa Hanser, and their four children. 

Thomas said they've celebrated the Fourth in Castle Rock a couple times before. 

"We love all the stuff they have for kids," Melissa said, adding that her kids love it too, especially the fireworks, a show to be put on by Pyro F/X, a pyrotechnic company in Billings.

The temperature for the day topped out at 95 degrees. According to the national weather service, it was the hottest Fourth of July since 2008, when it was 102 degrees, and the sixth-hottest in recorded history.

The hottest one was 1937 when it was 106.

When it got too hot, 8-year-old Kienna Gillespie headed for the sprinkler park, where kids took turns spraying each other with water guns. 

Some people would ask to be sprayed and some wouldn't, Kienna said. 

Kienna's mom, Terri, said they go to Harvest Church and come to the event every year, especially for the cheap food and free entertainment. 

Although it was hot, Sean Moore, a medical minister, said there were no injuries. 

Burgin said they expected between 10,000 and 15,000 people to show up for the fireworks. Hundreds of people were seen flocking to park as the sun set. 

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