Westport’s Fourth of July Parade tradition continues Thursday with a new team of organizers at the helm and a revised route for marchers.
“There are changes this year but the parade that people in Westport and neighboring towns love will be much the same as always,” said David Palmer.
The parade steps off at 10 a.m. from the corner of Main Road and Hix Bridge Road and proceeds north up Main Road to a conclusion at Westport High School.
That’s the biggest change, Mr. Palmer said.
In the past the parade has taken a left from Main Road onto Charlotte White Road and then a right up Sodom Road to the Holy Ghost Club.
“For several reasons, primarily safety, we needed to change that,” Mr. Palmer said.
That old route featured two 90 degree turns which could be a challenge for floats and big vehicles, especially trying to navigate past spectators in close quarters. It also was difficult to free up participating police and fire vehicles in case they were needed in an emergency, and it involved closing three roads instead of one as well as the extra cost of posting a police detail at the Holy Ghost Club finish.
“We understand that some people who live along those roads will be disappointed,” he said, but “for safety’s sake” the straight shot to the high school is preferable. The actual route is about the same length and should take about two hours to complete.
Parade almost didn’t happen
For awhile, it seemed change of route was the least of the parade’s problems.
Long organized by the Westport Fire Department, then by the Lions Club for awhile, and then the Fire Department again, this year it seemed the parade might cease when the Fire Department said it could no longer take the lead. Town officials worried that the cost of liability insurance was too much for Westport to handle.
That’s when Mr. Palmer stepped forward and offered to set up a committee of volunteers to keep things going.
“I have fond memories of going to that parade as a little boy with my family and know the joy it brings not only to people in Westport but to people from towns around,” he said.
“It’s the biggest thing we have in Westport and I didn’t want it to flop.” In fact, it’s the biggest thing for several towns, he added, since Little Compton, Tiverton and Dartmouth are all without parades of their own. “We get participants and spectators from all around … people who live a good small town parade.”
His call for volunteers brought together a dozen-member committee who went to work with just three months to go before the Fourth.
“Fortunately for us, Dan Ledoux offered to stay on to advise us.” Mr. Ledoux has been organizing the parade for over a dozen years “and knows it inside out … He has been a huge help and I’m not sure how we would have done it without him.”
Parade units will muster along Main Road at Hix Bridge Road at around 8:30 a.m. Floats will assemble in one place, antique cars in another, tractors next and fire engines elsewhere.
Then, under a method honed by Mr. Ledoux over the years, units will be sent on their way.
“He mixes it up,” Mr. Palmer said of the Ledoux method. “He told me that people probably don’t want to see 27 fire trucks then 27 old cars in a row — makes sense.”
Unlike Bristol’s mega-parade where participants sign up and are screened months in advance, “In Westport, you don’t really know what you’re going to get until you see who shows up.”
But there are promising signs for this year’s attendance.
Already 14 or 15 groups have sent word that they’ll be sending floats. “I’m ecstatic about that … Dan says that’s way more than he’s usually heard from at this point.
Among these are the Music Boosters, Scouts, a restaurant — even a memorial tribute for a Little Compton man.
Car clubs, too, are sending word that they want to be involved.
Mr. Palmer asks parade participants to get to Hix Bridge Road early (by 8:30 to 9 a.m.) so that the groups can be sorted out and that the route and rules can be explained.
Those rules include one introduced a couple of years ago banning the throwing of candy or other items from parade vehicles.
“The insurance company frowned on that. It’s a safety thing — they don’t want little children running out into the roadway,” Mr. Palmer said. Instead, people can walk alongside vehicles with any handouts.
And strictly enforced will be an absolute ban on water balloons or the spraying of any substance (water included) either into the crowd or at marchers. There have been several eye injuries caused by such practices in the past “and we don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
At the high school, the Little League will have its refreshment stand open for business.
The committee has set up a Facebook page and is soliciting donations to help cover the cost of police and public works overtime assistance, port-a-potties, rented golf carts (or parade monitors, and much more.
They are also considering a “Septemberish” fund raiser — perhaps a chicken barbecue with antique car show and something for youngsters.
Donations to the Westport Fourth of July Parade can be sent to WFJPC Inc., 77 Shirley Street, Westport, Ma. 02790