Grand Parade Participation Down Over Decades, But Spirit Still Soars

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Saturday’s 65th Parade of the Hills Grande Parade will feature more than 100 floats, bands and organizations — about one-third of the number that graced the event decades ago. But while the number of parade units has shrunk, the enthusiasm and community spirit surrounding the parade is as high as ever.

The Grande Parade will begin at 6 p.m. at Harper and Poplar Streets, making its way down West Washington Street and the Nelsonville Public Square. (See Page A6 for a list of parade entrants.)

“It’s a good parade. I really enjoy it and the people are great,” said parade coordinator Bill L’Heureux. “The streets are jam packed for the parade.”

Eddie VanBibber and Crystal Howard have been announcing the parade floats during the Grande Parade for more years than either can remember. VanBibber estimated that it has been 15 to 20 years.

VanBibber said there used to be four locations on the parade route in which the floats were announced,but it was eventually consolidated to one location — the Bell Tower Stage.

According to VanBibber, he used to be responsible for recruiting area marching bands to perform in the parade. He said one year the event had a record of 18 bands. Over the years, he said band participation has waned as the cost to transport students to the event has gone up with gas prices.

The parade today lasts just over an hour, but back in the day, VanBibber said it would take more than two hours to complete the parade. He said there used to be more than 200 units in the parade, more than double the amount expected this year.

But VanBibber said the spirit is still there and people are standing four-deep near the Bell Tower Stage to hear the floats announced over the PA system.

Howard, who was crowned Miss Parade of the Hills in 1980, said that she and VanBibber followed in the footsteps of some great people who used to call the parade.

She said one of the great things about the Grande Parade is that people try to outdo themselves every year.

“People are always doing bigger and better things with their floats each year,” she said. “Each one tries to make it unique. It’s interesting to see some of the ideas they come up with. We’re thrilled to have them all in the parade.”

Howard said one of the more popular floats is one by Rocky Brands because they pass out Mardi Gras beads to guests.

She agreed with VanBibber that the excitement surrounding the parade is still grand.

“It doesn’t lessen the enthusiasm,” Howard said, noting that people already had lawn chairs lined up along the parade route on Friday morning. “It’s a rite of passage to get your chairs out early. That’s what makes it really exciting.”

She said that out-of-town guests are always courteous to locals, asking if they can sit in their front yards and always tidying up after themselves.

“Everyone’s really kind to the community,” she said. “There’s that community spirit whether you’re from Nelsonville or out of town. It has that Mayberry feel.”

The Messenger will be just one of the units in Saturday’s parade.

“The Parade of the Hills is a community event that our staff looks forward to participating in and covering from a news perspective for our readers each year. We sponsor some of the kids’ games and produce the program for the festival committee. The past couple of years we’ve also participated in the parade. We value the relationship we have with the Nelsonville community and appreciate them hosting this event each year for all of Athens County and visitors to enjoy,” said Athens Messenger President and Publisher Monica Nieporte.

While the parade occurs on the last day of the Parade of the Hills festival, it certainly doesn’t mark the end of the festivities. Following the parade, Miss Parade of the Hills 2014 will be crowned on the main stage. The Roland Pierce Citizenship Award will also be presented.

Nelsonville’s own The Hitch Hikers will round out the entertainment at 9 p.m. on the main stage.