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Parade is truly grand

Freedom Festival lures 250,000 to Provo streets

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PROVO — The University Avenue 7-Eleven has white plastic chains roping off customers and routing them around the convenience store like a herd of cattle.

The Provo Police Department has 50 foot-patrol officers and cadets, 10 bike medics and two extra ambulances on call.

People from all over Utah and some out-of-staters line the streets as far as the eye can see.

America's Freedom Festival at Provo's Grand Parade is the biggest event south of the Point of the Mountain, and, some festival organizers argue, bigger than the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City.

In total, Freedom Festival organizers projected that there were around 250,000 people gathered for the parade Wednesday morning, with countless others watching from housetops, business windows and cars.

"We've been here since 8 o'clock last night," said Charles Conover from his lawn chair on the curb of University Avenue. The Conovers, along with the Jenks and Tinoco families, stake out the same spot every year and hold it for the rest of their family and friends, who show up about the time the parade starts.

"We usually have about 20 or 30 people show up," Conover said. The space he holds is about the size of four picnic blankets.

"It's a lot of fun," he said.

But families aren't the only ones out for the event.

"I just like getting away from the house," said Highland resident Steve Bowman. He's sitting on the grass at the curb with five of his friends.

Bowman said they come to the parade because it's fun and because it's the Fourth of July.

Friend Justin Wright said after the parade they go check out the Freedom Festival booths set up across from the Historic Utah County Courthouse and then go water skiing on Utah Lake.

But for others, the parade is all business.

Gina Stewart of Community Thrift and Relief sells snow cones, nachos, hot dogs and drinks on the sidewalk in front of her store on University Avenue.

"We do pretty good," she said. Stewart uses the parade as a way to make up money if sales in the thrift store are down. She's also trying to get enough funds to build a sign for the store. So she and her kids work making snow cones and selling hot dogs while everyone else watches the parade.

Provo police have their hands full for most of the day also. From about 5 a.m. the morning of the Fourth until about 1 a.m. early the next morning, they're out keeping parade watchers in line, doing crowd control for the Stadium of Fire and making sure no one is using illegal fireworks.

"It's usually really calm," said Provo police dispatcher Karalee Richins. Richins watches the parade from the Provo Police Mobile Command Unit, an R.V. type vehicle that acts as police headquarters.

Because most people don't drink during the parade, or at the other Freedom Festival activities, crowds usually don't get out of hand, said Richins.

In total, 105 groups walked or rode in floats in this year's parade — everything from Whiskers the Patriotic Mouse to Utah Valley Llamas to Pearl Harbor Veterans.

"People love the parade," said Freedom Festival media representative Linda Walton.

E-MAIL: rrogers@desnews.com