Under a blazing sun, thousands of beachgoers crammed Sunken Meadow State Park Sunday, leading officials to close it after its parking lots were packed to capacity.

The park was closed at 1:45 p.m. when it hit its capacity of 60,000 people, the state parks department's Deputy Regional Director George Gorman said. The park reopened at 4:45 p.m. and was to stay open until sunset, he said.

Umbrellas and trees offered relief from the heat as people gathered on the beach and in the park's vast fields, celebrating the Fourth of July with picnics, baseball and soccer.

But amid the festivities, some lamented that the meaning of the holiday is too often lost.

"I feel like people don't really look at it as an American holiday, sadly," said Dira Gjela, 19, a college student from the Bronx. "I feel like we don't think of it as Independence Day. It's just a weekend to have fun."

She said her thoughts were on American troops overseas. "While people are fighting in different countries, we're enjoying ourselves," she said. "We're not appreciative, and that's sad."

Nearby, Salka Kolenovic, 54, and her daughter, Elvina, 29, of the Bronx, barbecued under a tree with family members. "We have to have hope," said Salka Kolenovic, who immigrated to the United States from the former Yugoslavia and became an American citizen two years ago. "I trust our president. We have to be patient and give him a chance. I think he's doing a very good job."

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Her daughter, a project manager who was born in the United States, agreed. However, she said laws like the new Arizonaimmigration measure are among the country's biggest challenges because such measures may pass elsewhere.

She pointed to the diverse crowd around her and the sounds of Spanish music and European accents. "This is America," she said. "Different cultures - that's what makes America."

 

Amityville's Independence Day parade took place under a sun so intense that the flowers in the street planters wilted and all but the most hardy people sought shade under awnings and trees.

Under one awning on Route 110, Beverly Stevens-Marcelle, 69, took refuge as she waited for members of her American Legion group to pass by so she could join them.

She said she marches every Fourth of July and Memorial Day in memory of her father, a World War II Army veteran.

"He would have been very proud," she said. "Why not keep his memory alive?"

Then the parade passed, complete with marching Boy Scouts, firefighters, antique cars, drummers and bagpipers - and ultimately Stevens-Marcelle.

"I thought it was great," said Tom Murray, 60, of Vienna, Va., a native Long Islander who had lived in Amityville.

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He and his brother-in-law, Joseph Savilia, 70, of Amityville, sat on a bench along the parade route, unprotected from the unforgiving sun.

"It's never too hot," Murray said with a laugh.

Savilia said he enjoyed seeing the marchers' enthusiasm.

But he added that the crowd turning out for the parade has diminished over the years, a trend he finds disappointing.

"I don't think our children are being taught the importance of the holiday," Savilia said. "They see it as a day off."

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Stella Coughlin, 57, sat along the route with her black Lab mix, Eva.

Coughlin, a nurse, said she was lucky to have this July 4 off, and sought out a parade near her Seaford home.

"It wouldn't be the Fourth of July if I wasn't at someone's parade," she said. Coughlin said as a daughter of immigrants, she felt especially patriotic on this day. "We celebrate our birthdays; we should celebrate our country's birthday."

It was also a birthday Sunday for Eva, who was a rescue from the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast.

Although Eva and America share a birthday, Coughlin said, Eva isn't much of a fan of the festivities. "The noise of the firecrackers bothers her."

 Few cabbages were spared Sunday when the Rough Riders came to Sagamore Hill.

Members of the Nassau-Suffolk Horsemen's Association transformed themselves into Theodore Roosevelt's volunteer regiment from the Spanish-American War at his Cove Neck home, demonstrating formations and tactics for hundreds of onlookers.

That's where the cabbages came in.

With sabers drawn, riders took turns trying to slice cabbages mounted on poles that stood in for the heads of Spanish soldiers fighting in Cuba. The fact that the real Rough Riders had to leave their horses behind in Florida in 1898 didn't take away from the drama of the demonstration.

Colin Conalty, 4, of Massapequa, was captivated by the horses, particularly one that nuzzled him before the demonstration.

Then, he was invited to participate in a flag-raising with crew members of the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and park rangers.

Returning to his mother, Pat, he asked, "Can we come here again next year?"

After their cavalry demonstration in a field behind the main house, the Rough Riders joined the 26th president - actor James Foote of Sea Cliff - as he addressed visitors from the porch.

He told the crowd that being an American is not a question of "birthplace, creed or color," but rather a question of purpose and ideals.

He urged the members of the crowd to be good citizens in their communities and embrace hard work. "Far better it is to run the risk of wearing out than rusting out," he said.