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Capacity crowds close Sunken Meadow State Park

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, state parks spokesman 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 day is too often lost.

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

She said her thoughts were on American troops overseas. "We're not appreciative, and that's sad," she said.

Nearby, Salka Kolenovic, 54, and daughter Elvina, 29, both of the Bronx, barbecued under a tree with family. "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," she said. "We have to be patient and give him a chance."

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

She pointed to the diverse crowd around her. "This is America," she said. "Different cultures - that's what makes America."

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