By Amanda Kim Stairrett

Harker Heights Herald

BELTON - The city's Fourth of July celebration has 160 years of tradition and history. With the city's ongoing downtown renovation, it has an updated look this year, Chamber of Commerce officials said Wednesday.

An 80-foot American flag soon will be on display at the city's gateway. A ceremony at 9:30 a.m. July 4 will dedicate new bricks in the Patriot Way Brick Walk.

The famous parade, which dates back to 1850, was named as one of the top 10 places to be in the nation for Independence Day in 2008 by USA Today. Thousands visit the area each year for the three-day event, which also includes a festival, patriotic programs and a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo. The parade starts at 10 a.m. at 10th Avenue and Main Street. The route ends at Central Avenue and Birdwell Street. Crowds for the parade have averaged 30,000, and organizers are expecting the same turnout next month.

Immediately following the parade is the Festival on Nolan Creek, which goes from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Yettie Polk Park. It includes arts and crafts vendors, family activities, medieval heavy and light weapons demonstrations from local members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, food and the Old Time Fiddler's Contest.

While the celebration relies heavily on tradition, new events this year are designed to draw an even more diverse crowd and reach out to soldiers, their families and loved ones of those who are deployed.

The long weekend starts with a kick-off barbecue on June 30 at Yettie Polk Park. It includes live music and a high-noon shootout. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children.

The rodeo goes from July 1 to 3 with a military appreciation night that starts at 7 p.m. July 1 at the Bell County Expo Center. The rodeo's celebration night starts at 7 p.m. July 3. Rodeo events include performances by the All American Cowgirl Chicks, junior bull riding, mutton bustin', Western gift show and a mechanical bull. Active-duty soldiers get free admission to the rodeo every night.

July 4 starts with a 9 a.m. patriotic program featuring retired Gen. David R. Palmer at the Old Bell County Courthouse. A brick dedication for the city's Patriot Way follows at 9:30 a.m. at the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce, 412 E. Central Ave. Retired Col. Larry Phelps is set to lead that event.

Special events include the Schoepf's Old Time Pit BBQ third annual Rodeo Round Up Concert featuring four acts, including Aaron Watson. Music starts at 8 p.m. Watson takes the stage at 10 p.m. The event is free to those with military IDs.

Other special events include:

Bell County Museum exhibit, Memories of World War II: Photographs from the Associated Press," which goes through Aug. 21. The theme of this year's event is "Celebrating the Greatest Generation."

Bullfighter's autograph session from 6 to 7 p.m. June 30 at The Gin in downtown Belton.

Carnival from 10 a.m. to midnight from July 1 to 4 at Confederate Park.

All American Cowgirl Chicks autograph session from 10 a.m. to noon July 1 at Texas Partners FCU, 2445 N. Main St.

God and Country Concert at 3 p.m. July 3 at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

For more information about the celebration, go to The updated site includes new features, including areas where visitors can post photos from past events.

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