By Scott Sullivan
Is an Independence Day free from threats possible? Saugatuck’s July 4 parade will go on, Mayor Garnet Lewis told city council Thursday, with her leading in lieu of the Saugatuck-Douglas Rotary Club stepping down claiming it could not furnish increased security per new public safety edicts.
Rotary foundation chair Jim Sullivan presented the city a check at last week’s council workshop supporting the May 24 Tri-Community Household Hazardous Waste Day collection prefacing his “good news/bad news” report.
The Rotary board, he read from a statement, will again sponsor this year’s July 4 fireworks thanks to municipal and community donations.
“We originally hoped,” the statement went on, “to provide leadership and volunteers for a Fourth of July parade as well.
“However, increased security concerns and new traffic control requirements, including the need to provide car-proof barriers, to ensure the safety of parade participants and spectators leave our membership feeling unqualified as a volunteer organization to take responsibility for a parade at this time.”
It has been some time since Rotary, which ran the parade from 2012 to 2019, put on its last one. Covid concerns caused the club to join others canceling 2020 events, and enough uncertainty lingered in 2021 for members to again opt out. A volunteer group led by past parade organizer Linda Kinnaman stepped up to present last’ year’s traditional procession.
New this year — for all local parades, but especially challenging for the large and long-routed July 4 one here — is increased public-safety protocols proposed by a committee of fire and police professionals in response to a Waukesha, Wisc. Christmas parade last November where a runaway SUV plowed into and killed six people. Ongoing headlines suggest violent outbreaks have not diminished
A local Parade Security Ad Hoc Committee comprised of Saugatuck-Douglas Fire District Chief Greg Janik, Douglas Police Chief Steve Kent, Allegan County Sheriff’s Lt. Brett Ensfield, STFD Capt. Mike Betts, fire board chair Jane Verplank and secretary Dan Fox from Saugatuck city met this winter to propose increased-security parade routes and measures by which they can be achieved.
Its report, released two weeks before the annual Saugatuck-Douglas Area Business “Erin Go Bark” St. Patrick’s Day pet parade March 12 gave pause (bad pun) to sponsors. Police signed onto SDABA’s permit request for the typically small event, but Janik didn’t.
“Unfortunately,” he wrote council Feb. 25, “based on documentation submitted I cannot in good conscience approve the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I do not believe adequate safety measures are being proposed to prevent vehicles interacting with pedestrians.
“The city,” Janik went on, “has been advised of inexpensive alternative barriers which could be used but, for whatever reason, I do not have documentation from the city that indicates they will pursue those options.”
Examples shared in the committee’s report might be blocking side street access with fire, police and public works vehicles, school buses, fixed and water-filled interlocking barriers.
Council approved Erin Go Bark and the show went on in a pop-up snowstorm starting at Wicks Park, proceeding south and east down Water and Culver streets, north on Butler Street, then back along Lucy Street to the park.
The STFD blocked such access streets as it could, flakes flew and no one emerged worse for wear except cold feet and leprechaun vests frozen to pups’ fur.
Thursday’s workshop segued into a discussion of Saugatuck’s May 30 Memorial Day parade. Lewis said given added security and liability standards, staff in good conscience needed organizers to furnish special events permit lead to accommodate the procession.
“We need to know who’s leading it,” said Lewis, “the route and who’s providing security. Public safety, in fairness to them, does too.”
“I’m a veteran, participate in and love these parades,” said mayor pro-tem Scott Dean. “But even though Memorial Day is a long tradition, we need more notice in the form of permits to know there’s insurance and safety standards will be met.”
The Douglas Memorial Day parade, an hour after Saugatuck’s, went on tradition down Center Street, whose route involves fewer cross streets. The two cities may be one as some say but have different logistics too.
Saugatuck July 4 parades have long started and ended at Saugatuck High School — whose parking lot this summer is partially filled by construction equipment, but not so much it would preclude mustering the traditionally larger-scale procession.
Routes have proceeded down what is called here “The Hill” to and from their most spectator-friendly and business-lined prime stretch on Butler Street, then climbed back. Paraders have included a large contingent of STFD trucks, horns blaring, sirens flashing and uniformed officers bringing up the rear.
Rotary applied to resume the parade this year aware of school construction and proposed change to a downtown-only route.
The organization balked however when the final route, approved and shared with members June 2, included requirements for volunteers to provide adjunct safety and security services.
The city, working with public safety and Rotary officials, proposed a route longer than for the pet parade (see map nearby). But logistical challenges still weighed on the volunteer charity group’s board members.
“That’s a lot of downtown to close to parking mid-day on the Fourth of July,” said Sullivan. “Public safety also asked we have at least six members block side streets with their private vehicles. That in addition to volunteers elsewhere who would run the parade.
“I’ll be in Ireland then,” he went on. “I’d love to help and I’m sure other members will too. But our board felt we were over our heads with terrorism and liability threats, plus this breaking late on us.
“We decided if we could not do it right, we should hand it off,” he said.
“I wear two hats,” said Lewis, “as mayor and a Rotarian. I recognize the value of parades in this town, so I’ve volunteered to help organize this instead.”
“In November,” said Saugatuck-Douglas Area Convention & Visitors Bureau executive director Lisa Mize, also a Rotarian, “we sought to organize and plan these events better in advance.
“Early is best to inform organizers they have to get ducks in a row and fill out the forms,” she said.
“I think all these events should be calendarized,” said Sullivan. “It helps us all if we are consistent across the board.”
The city, working with public safety and Rotary officials, proposed a route longer than for the pet parade (see map nearby). But the added logistical and security challenges still weighed on board members.
“That’s a lot of downtown to close to parking mid-day on the Fourth of July,” said Sullivan. “That in addition to volunteers elsewhere who would run the parade,
Council Monday approved the mayor’s special event application to hold the parade as shown on the map starting at 10 a.m., but tabled paying also for its liability insurance pending more information from the city’s insurer about coverage for all such events.
The newly-formed parade committee urged interested participants to cooperate with these requirement:
• Register your group or family at bit.ly/saugatuckjuly4parade before June 30.
• Assemble between 9 a.m. and no later than 9:30 on Water Street between Main and Lucy streets.
• Use the only open approach to Water Street for parade participants: Lucy Street heading west.
• Side streets Francis and Spear will be closed to traffic July 4 morning.
• Parade vehicles will be staged pointing south on both sides of Water between Main and Lucy.
• There will be no parking on Water north of Main Sunday evening through noon Monday, July 4.
• Interested volunteers are asked to contact Mayor Lewis.
Council Monday also signed off on Rotary’s July 4 fireworks application, with traditional vendor Night Magic Inc. providing pyrotechnics shot from Douglas over Kalamazoo Lake between 10 and 11 p.m.
By Scott Sullivan