Douglas Island’s 125th annual Fourth of July celebration kicks off with a picnic and soapbox derby | Juneau Empire (2024)

“We’re celebrating Independence Day,” said Maggie Swanson, president of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee. “It’s nice to see everybody get out and enjoy themselves, and see all the families and all the kids having a good time. Douglas is all about community and kids. And you can see right here — this is how it is.”

The Douglas Volunteer Fire District grilled burgers and hot dogs at Savikko Park as children competed in the annual watermelon-eating contest.

In the family-fun event, prizes were offered for age groups ranging from two-year-olds to their parents. A few blocks away, kids raced down St. Ann’s Avenue in preparation for the soapbox challenge that takes place July 4. Swanson said the picnic and soapbox derby signal the island’s official start of the holiday’s festivities.

The Douglas community cheers on the adults taking part in the watermelon-eating contest at the community picnic on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Ed Shanley and Dominique Johnson celebrate winning the watermelon-eating contest for parents during the community picnic in Douglas on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

In the watermelon wars, 16-year-old Brooklyn Kanouse and 12-year-old Emma Kanouse competed in a “battle of the cousins.” B. Kanouse may have cleaned off her red face following her victory, but there was no chance of wiping away her grin.

“It was fun,” she said. “The pressure wasn’t as bad, going against my family.”

B. Kanouse is serious when it comes to eating watermelon — she has been doing the contest for a decade and this was her second year in a row winning.

Marie Markel, 7, holds up her watermelon at the Douglas Fourth of July Committee’s annual community picnic on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

The Douglas Fourth of July Committee is an all-volunteer organization. Last weekend, they held an event where families decorated bicycles for the Douglas parade, which begins at 2 p.m. July 4.

Shortly after the parade, the soapbox challenge will take place at 3 p.m. Cheers of “faster, faster” could be heard from the picnic as kids shot down the street in a practice run Wednesday. A car show was also held.

Everyone who participates in the soapbox challenge receives a participation prize and trophies are offered for 5-6, 7-8 and 9-10 age groups.

“We’ve been organizing the soapbox derby for the last three years,” Kara Johnson, treasurer for Douglas Fourth, said. “Before us, the Dipsticks organized this event. Douglas Fourth took over this event. We were a placeholder organization until we could find an organization to take it over and the Moose Lodge will be taking over this event next year.”

Garrett Reid takes his patriotic soapbox car for a spin during the challenge trials in Douglas on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Johnson said the committee coordinates with Costco, which donates the tire van, and Southeast Construction, which provides the eight-foot ramp kids speed down. They also coordinate with the City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation department to set up porta-potties and bleachers.

The Douglas Fourth of July Committee hires the Juneau Huskies football team for manual labor, such as setting up and taking down the tire track and finish line.

“That money goes to support their team,” Johnson said. “That’s one of the ways that we can reinvest our money into the community. That’s really important for us. Our main things are to support the kids and have fun events.”

Families can choose to build a soapbox car with a kit from Don Abel Building Supplies or they can borrow a car donated from the Juneau community. For example, Capital City Fire/Rescue Douglas donated a car last year, and both the Juneau Pioneers of Alaska Juneau Igloo and the Moose Lodge donated cars this year.

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

Merry James, 10, a competitor in the July 3 watermelon-eating contest in Douglas for the past two years, celebrates her first win Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Ellis Pilcher, 2, gets a kiss from mom following her first attempt at the watermelon-eating contest at the Douglas Fourth of July Committee’s annual community picnic on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Perri Bardsley, 7, accepts her prize in the watermelon-eating contest at the Douglas Fourth of July Committee’s annual community picnic on Wednesday. Everyone receives $1 and a patriotic bracelet for participation, with a crisp $5 bill going to the winner. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

David Phillips pushes Russell Phillips back up the hill after passing the finish line at the trials of the soapbox challenge in Douglas on Wednesday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Mateo Echave nears the finish line at practice trials of the soapbox challenge in Douglas on Wednesday. It’s his first time participating in the event. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Douglas Island’s 125th annual Fourth of July celebration kicks off with a picnic and soapbox derby | Juneau Empire (2024)

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