The 50 stars were the same, as were those 13 stripes.

The face masks were new this year, however, as were the hand-sanitizing stations and social distancing signs.

That’s Independence Day 2020.

Many in Southwest Florida tried to make the holiday as normal as possible.

Helena, Noah and Elijah Ashcraft spent much of Saturday afternoon in the water and building sand castles at Englewood Beach, which was packed Saturday. The Ashcrafts were here visiting from Ohio.

“We’re just sticking to the beach and not venturing out too much due to all the precautions,” said their mom, Heather. “We come here every year to celebrate the Fourth of July. This year is even more special because we always appreciate our freedom, and this year we appreciate the fact that the beach is open and it’s such a beautiful day.”

Brothers Philip and Gary Scholfield spend the Fourth of July in Englewood every year. Philip lives here and Gary was in town visiting from Atlanta.

“With all that is going on in the world right now, it’s nice to just finally get a chance to relax,” Philip said.

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office confirmed their Marine Units were busy with crowded Gulf beaches and waterways.

Freedom Swim

Because of COVID-19, the official Freedom Swim was canceled since it attracts hundreds of swimmers, floaters and boaters to Charlotte Harbor each year.

That didn’t keep everyone out of the water.

Anthony Sbarbori, of Harbour Heights, helped to get the word out about the unofficial Freedom Swim.

“We’ll stay apart and do whatever is compliant with the law,” Sbarbori said while inflating his fluorescent pink Llamacorn (translation: llama-unicorn).

Shortly before noon Saturday, about a half-dozen people began loitering in the small beach area of Gilchrist Park in Punta Gorda. They dragged inflatables and floating coolers into the warm brackish water. Others, like Meko Arroyo, of Port Charlotte, stood ready to tackle the waves without any help from a Llamacorn or other inflatable device. This was his eighth Freedom Swim.

“I’m just expressing my freedom and doing something we love to do and keeping that tradition alive,” Arroyo said.

The unofficial Freedom Swim carried on with a few dozen determined swimmers, floaters and boaters.

Sabrina Norton, of Punta Gorda, celebrated the Fourth of July by participating in the Freedom Swim — her first official or unofficial.

“We’re celebrating our independence, our freedom,” she said.

Fishermen’s Village

Red, white and blue garland decorated a hand-sanitizing station at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. A sign beneath it states: “Maintain 6 feet of separation.”

That’s Independence Day 2020.

Social distancing was quite possible this year at Fishermen’s Village — normally a hub of Fourth of July activity and the landing stop for Freedom Swimmers.

Musician Rita Beach sang patriotic songs for the diners and shoppers, some of whom were wearing masks. Many walked along the water, took photos, and enjoyed Beach’s version of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

At Harpoon Harry’s, waterfront tables remained open — and not just the ones blocked off for social distancing reasons. The Freedom Swim normally ends with hundreds of water-logged swimmers climbing up the ladder and into Harpoon Harry’s.

For the few swimmers who attempted the swim Saturday, they would have been met with signs at the ladder stating: “Observe Social Distancing.”

Port Charlotte Beach Complex

Brian Branca had the whole pier to himself at the Port Charlotte Beach Complex on Saturday afternoon.

He said he thought about going to one of the local Gulf beaches, like those in Englewood, but decided to stay close to home.

“There are plenty of fish right here to catch,” he said. After throwing the cast net a few times in shallow water, he had enough bait to head to the end of the pier and fish for snook and mangrove snapper.

North Port Fireworks

Most fireworks celebrations were canceled this year including those in Punta Gorda and Englewood. Since there is no Charlotte Stone Crabs baseball this year, those summer-night, post-game fireworks displays also remain silenced.

North Port, however, found a way.

A fireworks show was scheduled to take place at North Port High School, where people from parked vehicles could watch in designated areas. 

Englewood family Bill Swingle, Eli Lambert, Nikoli Lambert and Patti Swingle were excited to watch the fireworks Saturday night, but being disconnected from loved ones is especially hard on holidays.

"Sad, very sad," Patti said of her family isolating this year. "Wish could all be together."

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