VAIL — It’s not uncommon to see large crowds in Vail, but it’s only once per year we get to see so many people concentrated into one area.
Thousands of people lined streets between Vail and Lionshead villages on Thursday for the Vail America Days parade, an annual Independence Day celebration featuring 80 or so floats, both comical and ceremonial.
Driving a original World War II Willys Jeep, Edwards resident Buddy Sims said he was honored to be able to pilot the vehicle in salute of Maj. William Bird Mounsey, who always attended the Vail parade, but died last year.
“He was one of the few guys in WWII who was given a star on his combat infantry badge, because he stayed in occupied Germany,” Sims said.
Sims, a veteran of the Vietnam War, was joined by fellow Vietnam veteran G.E. Scott and WWII vets Alan Aarons and Herb Rubenstein.
“I’m 92 years old, I walk fine, but it’s nice to be here in this Jeep with these guys,” Rubenstein said.
Not far behind Rubenstein and Sims was a relic from the post-WWII boom, a pristine red fire truck from 1953 that once belonged to Eagle County’s Gilman Fire Department. Being a motorized event, vehicles like the Gilman firetruck were often as much of a sight to behold as the floats they powered. A 1966 Chevy Corvette driven by Vail local Bill Bain won the best motorized vehicle float.
“They gave us a really nice plaque,” said Bain. “I love it.”
50th Anniversary themed
Floats that recognized Vail’s 50th anniversary were popular this year, with the Aukamp family driving a “five decades of fun” float and Ski and Snowboard Club Vail winning best youth float with their “50 years of awesomeness” float honoring ski racers like Lindsey Vonn, Sarah Schleper and Mikaela Shiffrin, who were members of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail before turning pro.
Even the floats that were going for laughs — like Cordillera’s disco-themed, multi-person bicycle — were peppered with shout-outs to Vail’s 50th.
Ten-year old Finn Dippy said the Trinity Church float was his favorite.
“They take garbage and turn it into music,” he said.
And he meant it quite literally. Using old buckets, pails and piping, the Trinity Church group played a musical number, accompanied by dancers, to win the parade’s musical marching award.
Parade organizers tout the celebration as “one of Colorado’s largest Fourth of July parades,” a reference to both the parade itself and the crowds it attracts.
Getting to the parade usually means joining a procession of your own on I-70. By 10 a.m. the interstate was a parking lot, with people in cars backed up to West Vail awaiting their opportunity to join the celebration.
Decked out in red, white and blue
Most of the parade-goers were outfitted in red, white and blue or some sort of USA-themed garb. Dressed in cut-off jean shorts, Vail Valley resident Robbie Prechtl said representing America with his dress was of paramount importance to him when assembling his parade getup.
“I’m not sure if the idea to actually cut the jeans off well above the knee like this was of American inception, but we sure have taken to it,” he said with a laugh.
Parade regulars like Karen Conklin, who’s been to every Vail America Days celebration since ’96, said getting a seat picked out early is key.
“We usually leave Eagle at 8 a.m. or so,” she said. “We get here about 8:30 or 8:40 and try to set up a good seat near the front.”
But despite the fact the parade attracts many of the same faces every year, for those people the experience can vary considerably.
Eleven-year-old Tatum Huffman, of Edwards, said even though she attends the event every year, she was looking forward to something different in 2013.
“I’m usually in the parade with the BMHS dance team, so it’s nice to be able to watch it as a spectator this year instead of participating,” she said.
The Vail America Days celebration continues throughout the weekend with concerts, athletic events, festival activities and more. For a complete schedule, pick up a copy of the Vail Daily Weekly or visit vailamericadays.com.