VAIL — The star-spangled banner waived o’er the land of the free parking for Vail America Days on Friday, where thousands gathered to celebrate Independence Day.
While the crowds were probably not as large as 2013 — 942 cars spilled over to the South Frontage Road this year, as opposed to nearly 1,300 last year — organizers said the event went about as smoothly as possible, with the parade running right on schedule and no major problems reported.
“We didn’t have any issues this year,” said Sgt. Justin Dill with the Vail Police Department.
“We’re getting so many repeat people year after year, so now people are really starting to figure out how to plan properly and do it right,” said event organizer Peggy Wolfe, of Highline Sports and Entertainment.
An important component of proper planning for a large event like Friday’s revolves around getting there early and finding a good parking spot; Kevin Berga with the town of Vail said the structures filled up quickly this year, with Vail reaching capacity just after 9 a.m. and Lionshead a half hour after that. Not included in Berga’s spillover count were 350 vehicles in the Solaris lot, 80 on the North Frontage Road in front of Safeway and another 40-50 at Chamonix.
“And we were only counting the legal ones,” Berga said.
Another 75 or so vehicles were illegally parked on the North Frontage Road between Middle Creek and Red Sandstone, which were ticketed by police.
New for this year was a post-parade “While Light Bash” at Solaris, which featured small bars interspersed throughout the plaza, along with games like gargantuan jenga and enormous Angry Birds.
“I think it was a great idea,” said Dani Hollander, manager of Solaris-based business The Blues Jeans Bar. “It’s nice to see (Solaris) doing events like this that incorporate the community. I hope they do more.”
White Light Bash event planner Cati Miller said preparing the party wasn’t easy, but she was pleased to see the way it went off.
“It was a test run because nobody had seen it done, nobody understood fully about how the mechanics would work,” Miller said Friday. “But everybody really came together and worked together very well.”
Playing the White Light Bash was the 101st Army Band’s rock group Mile High 101, comprised of members of the Colorado National Guard who play wearing full military camouflage. It was their third year in a row playing at Vail America Days.
“We keep coming back because the community here is so great,” said Sgt. Brian Person, of Mile High 101.
Also new this year was a kids’ closing venue at the recently constructed Sunbird Park in Lionshead.
Consisting of three pods perched atop boulders and poles and connected by slides, rope bridges and nets, the location was filled with kids this year. The parade ended near that park, which left the area looking lively long after the parade had ended.
“My kids just love this,” said John Workman, of Greenville, North Carolina. “It’s a beautiful structure.”
Workman said he and his wife, Vanessa, schedule an annual summer visit to Vail based on events like Vail America Days and Bravo! Vail, and they were having trouble pulling his kids — Maria, 9, Juliette, 7, Alex, 5, and Athena, 3 — away from the new park.
“Between Pirate Ship, Donovan and now this, we have plenty of park hopping to do,” he said.