By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA —The Fourth of July parade passed in not much more than the blink of an eye — 12 minutes and 20 seconds to be exact — with more than a dozen politicians, whose steps accounted for all but 3 minutes, easily representing the largest contingent of marchers.
"It was embarrassing," one member of the sparse crowd lining the route said flatly.
The Civil Air Patrol provided a color guard and Laconia Middle School provided a small band. There was a pair of antique automobiles and a fire engine. The mayor and four city councilors marched along with the gaggle of politicians.
"It was disappointing," agreed Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, whose department stages the parade, "but it always is. The parade has always been a struggle."
Dunleavy said that for years the Opechee Park Club managed the parade before handing the reins to the Laconia Kiwanis Club, but for the past several years the task has fallen to the Parks and Recreation Department, with help from Kiwanians Chet Cilley and Jim Fortier. "It's a lot for us to manage," said Dunleavy. "It's hard to do what we need to do to make it a success."
Dunleavy said that the department directly approaches local businesses, civic groups, youth league teams and other organizations to encourage them to join the parade while at the same promoting the event on social media. With school out, he added, it is especially difficult to enlist a marching band. The parade once began earlier in the day, but the starting time was moved to 4:30 p.m., closer to the opening of festivities at Opechee Park, in hopes of attracting more participants. "It's difficult to get people to participate," Dunleavy confessed.
Moreover, the Fourth of July is perhaps the most demanding day of the year for the department. Apart from arranging the celebration and fireworks at Opechee Park, the holiday begins early and runs late for department employees. Dunleavy said he was at Weirs Beach at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the Fourth, where he evicted a group pitching a tent, and at 5 a.m. a crew arrived to clean the beach. He estimated there were some 1,500 people on the beach shortly after it opened at 7 a.m.
"Between supervising at Weirs Beach and Opechee Park," it's all gotten to be too much for us," Dunleavy said. "I think we're going to look to see if anyone wants to manage the parade, to see if there is another interested party."
Failing that, he said that doing away with the parade is "definitely a possibility," hastening to add that "It's not that we don't want to have a parade. But, it's a community event and we need the community to support and participate for it to be a success."
By contrast, Dunleavy said that celebration at Opechee Park "met or exceeded all our expectations."