ISLAND LAKE – Three-year-old Greta Schreurs went to her first parade Friday.
Leaning down, her father, Peter Schreurs, asked her what her favorite part was.
Greta paused in her industrious work of carrying sand from the middle of the small beach at Island Lake's Veterans Memorial Park to the edge of the lake and tossing it in.
"That I got candy," she replied, causing her father to laugh.
Peter and Katie Schreurs of Wauconda brought their two daughters, Greta and her 3-month-old little sister, Libby, to the village's annual Fourth of July picnic. It was their first time attending the event.
"We were really impressed," Peter Schreurs said. "The girls are having a great time. They went on a pony ride, and there's games for the kids. Now we're checking out the beach."
Families gathered on blankets in the park, enjoying the free hot dogs and drinks. Balloon toss and hula hoop contests burned off some excess energy.
Rich and Angel Ballasch's four kids – 15-year-old Alexia Ballasch, 4-year-old Gianna and 2-year-old twins, Gavin and Levi – will be ready for naps after the picnic, Rich Ballasch said, adding that he has some yard work to get done.
The Island Lake residents have been coming to the picnic every year for six years.
"It's family fun," he said.
The family met up with neighbors, Alexia participated in the balloon toss with her mother, and she planned on swimming in the lake.
The village of Island Lake wasn't the only community to celebrate Independence Day with food, music and fireworks.
Crystal Lake, Spring Grove and Wonder Lake started their days with parades, followed by a variety of shows, open houses, family-friendly games and plenty of food.
Even more communities – Cary, Crystal Lake, Fox River Grove, Huntley, Island Lake, Johnsburg, McHenry, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Woodstock – capped the day with fireworks.
Crystal Lake's festivities continued the city's yearlong celebration of its centennial. Food tents circled a stage where a band played, and screams could be heard from the nearby carnival where kids and teenagers braved the Tilt-A-Whirl and mini roller coasters and inhaled Italian ice and funnel cake.
Sharon Armstrong was out listening to music and relaxing with her daughter, Chris Johnson, and Johnson's two sons, Charlie, 12, and Jack, 9. A blow-up guitar and hammer the boys won playing basketball sat on the round table with souvenirs from a first-time balloon artist.
The mood was relaxed as the women chatted with Brynn Jeffries, a Crystal Lake native who had just happened to sit with Armstrong and her family.
"It's great," Armstrong said. "The kids are great. My grandsons are here. I live in Del Webb [Sun City in Huntley] so you know how much diversity I have there. That's what I like about this, all the kids."
Brynn Jeffries has been coming to the annual festival since she was a kid, riding her bike from where she grew up on the other side of the lake, and now she and her husband, Brian, bringing their 3-year-old daughter, Mary, and 3-month-old daughter, Pearl.
"At every stage of my life, it's been a destination," she said.