A hometown tradition


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Chugiak’s Brooks Patton, left, and Mike Hale share a laugh during the parade.

MATT TUNSETH

At a little before 2 p.m. on an overcast Thursday afternoon, the Old Glenn Highway through Chugiak shut down completely. People sitting in lawn chairs and perched on the back of pick-up truck beds lined the normally busy road. Children chased each other on the nearby bike path while a dad tossed a football to his son in the middle of the empty street. Businesses along the road opened up garage doors and set out barbecue grills.

A siren sounded.

“Parade’s coming!” yelled one kid to another, who yelled to another. Word spread fast, and soon children lined the street, clutching plastic grocery bags tight to their chests.

The Chugiak Fourth of July Parade isn’t the largest in Alaska. It’s not even the biggest in Chugiak-Eagle River. But for hometown feel, this year’s even again proved why organizers continue to put on the now 43-year-old event.

“I love this parade,” said Martha Rogers, who for 18 years has helped judge parade floats with her husband, Burl. “It’s so funky.”

The Chugiak parade may have put the “fun” in funky, as this year’s event again attracted an enthusiastic crowd culled mostly from nearby neighborhoods. A few traveled from the Mat-Su. Many came decked out in patriotic gear, including several people who brought red, white and blue umbrellas to guard against the potential rain storms.

When the clouds didn’t break, some turned to creative uses for their umbrellas, including longtime Chugiak resident Marine Sallee, who managed to pull in a sizable haul by using her umbrella as a candy dish. Sallee said she planned to donate the candy to children after the parade. But she laughed when she admitted to taking a few pieces for herself.

“Well, yeah,” she said.

The parade is put on each year by the Chugiak Area Business Association, the Chugiak Lions and the Chugiak Volunteer Fire Department. For 43 years is has followed nearly the exact same route through Chugiak, beginning at Latimer Hall, ending near Chugiak Elementary. Entry in the parade is free and open to all.

Among the float entries this year were all the usual suspects — horses, fire trucks, local businesses — as well as politicians, pageant winners and patriotic preschoolers. The parade float winners were the Antique Power Club (Judges Choice), American Legion Post 33 (CVFD Award), Bible Baptist (Most Patriotic), Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber (Best Nonprofit), VFW Post 9785 (Best Decorated), Jon Nauman/Horse Drawn Carriage (Best Animal), Old MG Auto/Skaggs Family (Best Vehicle), Birchwood Elementary (Best Children’s Group), Rural Discount Center (Best Commercial), Birchwood Christian School (Best Boy/Girl) and Chugiak Lions (Best Boy/Girl).

Decked out in his full dress uniform and riding atop a sports car, Chugiak High NJROTC leader MSgt. (Ret.) William “Top” Dill served as the parade’s Grand Marshall. Dill didn’t disappoint, waving to admiring paradegoers and flashing his signature grin the length of the route.

Children seeking candy again seemed satisfied by this year’s parade, which littered the Old Glenn with scores of Snickers, buckets of Baby Ruths and plenty of peppermints — the latter of which seemed to linger longest on the ground before being snatched up. As the crowd began to thin after the parade, many children continued to scour the Old Glenn for more goodies.

“Momma, there’s a Jolly Rancher!” called out one.

Another spotted a stash of several easy pieces and started a mini mob scene.

“It’s everywhere!” he exclaimed.

Rolling her eyes, a nearby woman couldn’t help but comment on the chaotic scene.

“You guys are like seagulls,” she said.

Soon afterward, police reopened the Old Glenn, and traffic returned to normal. People walked home or to their cars, no doubt heading to Fourth of July barbecues for which their appetites had been at least partially spoiled by sweets.

“It’s over?” asked one incredulous youngster, looking frantically for one last piece as he was led away from the scene.

“It’s over,” came the reply.

Until next year, that is.

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