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First-timers and veterans among thousands to enjoy Days of ’47 Parade

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SALT LAKE CITY — The 24th of July may not be a date that holds meaning for many, but for Utahns, it marks an important celebration of pioneer heritage and family traditions.

Shannon Clarke traveled from Peachtree City, Georgia, to camp with her family and friends along the route of Monday's Days of '47 Parade. They brought blankets, sleeping bags and air mattresses to set up Sunday afternoon in the grass along South Temple so they'd have a good spot to witness the parade.

"We couldn't miss it. We come out here every year and do the parade," she said. "You have to have the right kind of attitude about it because it's a long haul."

A Salt Lake City native, Clarke remembers camping with her father when she was younger. She said she enjoys connecting with friends while camping before the parade.

"It's more fun than the parade," she said.

Mormon pioneers first settled in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, coming by covered wagon, handcart and walking on foot. Two years after they arrived, the pioneer settlers began celebrating the end of their journey with an annual parade.

The Days of '47 Parade, held this year on July 25, continues to draw thousands from around the nation 169 years later to celebrate pioneers in one of the oldest parades in the county.

Streets in downtown Salt Lake City filled with floats, marching bands, color guards, clowns and more as families lined the blocks Monday to watch the parade. Many reserved their spots the night before, sleeping on the sidewalks and in the grass.

Colleen Barker said she began setting up her family's parade necessities about 1 p.m. Sunday. "And there were already tons of people down here," she said.

Brad Miller also camped overnight downtown with his wife and four kids so they could all experience the parade for the very first time. They came from Reno, Nevada, to attend with his wife's family who are from Utah.

"We heard the best way to do it is to lay all your stuff out, but then I kind of felt bad," he said. "I didn't want to just lay it and leave it. So we slept out here."

He set up a large tent on the grass along South Temple. But for their first Days of '47 experience, they had a rough time sleeping overnight.

"At 1 o'clock this morning the sprinklers went off," he said, laughing. "We didn't have the rain fly on so we were getting drenched. So my wife and I put the rain fly on at 1 o'clock this morning."

But he still plans on bringing his family to the parade again next year.

"It made good memories, it was a good time." Miller said. "It'll be worth it."

Cole LaCroix recently moved to Utah from Nevada. He had never attended the parade before and was surprised at the crowds of people camping and gathering together along the route.

"I can tell people are dedicated to the Days of '47. It's a big deal," he said.

He dressed as George Washington for his part on the Bountiful Central Stake float, complete with a white wig and colonial clothing.

"One of the generations of pioneer groups that we chose was the Founding Fathers," he said to explain his outfit.

Many float builders from nonprofit groups, businesses, schools and community churches drew inspiration from this year's parade theme, "Inspiring Today's Generation."

Myrah Summers, 14, also helped volunteer in the parade. She dressed in pioneer garb to carry the award banner for the Hunter Central Stake, which won the Ensign Award.

"I just like how creative all the floats are," she said. "So far, I like the one that has the jazz band on it."

Leih Pittman, 14, Eve Harding, 13, and Sophie Barson, 14, dressed as medieval princesses for the Sandy Granite View Stake float, which won the Theme Award and featured a castle, knights at a round table and a dragon.

"This is an amazing float," Leih said. "This is a really unique experience not many people will have."

The 2016 parade began at 9 a.m. with participants driving motorcycles, riding on floats, cantering on horses, biking and walking from the intersection of South Temple and State Street to 200 East and ending at Liberty Park on 900 South.

Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waved to the crowds as the parade's grand marshal.

Early Monday, Alison Dunn and her four children found front row seats along the route so they could wave to their grandpa who was riding in the parade.

"We lived out of state for the last 15 years. This is the first year we've been back in Utah, so we have to come," Dunn said.

"My favorite part is seeing my grandpa," said 12-year-old Lina Dunn. "And I like seeing all the fancy floats that they make."

Stacie Martinez and her 5-year-old daughter Jocelyn were just happy to find a place to sit after almost arriving late to the festivities. She said she was planning to catch up with friends and family but found a "lucky" spot in the shade.

"We're parking it right here," she said. "This is a pretty good spot for being here at 8:30."

Email: astilson@deseretnews.com