The heat index neared 106 degrees toward the late afternoon on Tuesday, but attendance never waned at Lincoln’s annual Uncle Sam Jam.
The Independence Day celebration attracted more than 20,000 people, said Lincoln Parks and Recreation program monitor Melissa Lindeman.
“This (event) is what Lincoln Parks and Recreation is about,” Lindeman said. “It brings the entire city together to come out and play.”
And everyone did just that. Hundreds of family members sprinkled the green space at Oak Lake Park to play soccer, disc golf, bingo and more. Swarms of children sprinted around trees painted as lions, bears and mermaids. One of the biggest attractions: bubbles.
Bethany Bettenhausen’s three small children enjoyed the station, which invited kids to create large bubbles in a group.
“The bubbles were pretty awesome, they were definitely a favorite,” Bettenhausen said. “But we also won at bingo, so, all of it is really great.”
The fact that the Fourth of July celebration landed in the middle of the week didn’t throw off most visitors. Lincoln Parks and Recreation moved it from being an all-day event to starting out at 4 p.m. to accommodate work schedules.
“We actually like it better in the middle of the week because it’s easier to come with family,” said Sabrina Campbell of Lincoln. “Everyone wants to party on the weekend, so this time it’s more family-oriented. You don’t have to worry about drinking or alcohol being around your children.”
The free event has been running for more than 40 years, Lindeman said. It used to be located at Holmes Lake Park, but was moved to Oak Lake Park in the early 2000s. The celebration always involves family games and activities, a live music performance and a fireworks display to end the night.
The local funk/rock band Soul Dawg has been the musical attraction for the past two years. Every year, Lincoln Parks and Recreation also tries to introduce a new game for kids. They chose the popular Snookball for this year’s event — a life-sized billiards game that used soccer ball in the place of pool balls.
Assistant director Holly Lewis has been working with Lincoln Parks and Recreation since 1983, and this was her 10th year at Uncle Sam Jam. The celebration has evolved over the last decade to include a lot more like canoeing, which interests a lot of city visitors.
“It’s a great family event because there are all sorts of activities offered for different ages,” Lewis said. “The choices are never ending; it’s a lot of fun.”
The sweltering temperatures of Tuesday's event wasn’t the biggest challenge of the day.
“The worst part is definitely finding enough staff to take care of all the stations so we have enough supervision, and everyone is safe,” Lewis said.
While Soul Dawg played high-energy hits, local food trucks sold concessions and Girl Scout Troup 20568 conducted a flag-lowering ceremony later in the evening.
“My favorite part is the teamwork of everyone here,” Lewis said. “It’s a tremendous community event where a lot of people try something they haven’t before.”