4th of July now town’s biggest day | VailDaily.com

4th of July now town’s biggest day

While the Vail America Days parade now sees crowds of 40,000 people or so, the parade is still made up mostly of locals.

VAIL — The Fourth of July has always been a big deal here. But at some point over the past dozen years or so, Independence Day has turned into Vail's biggest day of the year.

The Vail America Days parade and other Fourth of July events for the past few years have drawn around 40,000 people to town. The same-sized crowd is expected Monday, and virtually everyone will have a good time.

That good time has always been the case.

Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer have run the hotel that bears their name for more than 50 years. Sheika said Fourth of July in those early days featured a parade — a little one — followed by a day of mountainside family picnics and fireworks in the evening.

When Antlers at Vail General Manager Rob LeVine was a kid in the 1960s, he and his family started coming to Vail. The LeVines would stay at the home of family friends. Those families would join many others in the small-town Fourth of July celebrations.

'Always a big deal'

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It always was a big deal to us," LeVine said. "The kids would dress up, and get on their bikes and ride in the parade… The parade was very campy, very home-town."

It didn't take long for the world outside of Vail to discover the joys of a Fourth of July along Gore Creek. That attention became more focused after then-Congressman Gerald Ford started coming to town in the late 1960s, and grew after Ford became President in 1974. The Fords often stayed at Gasthoff Gramshammer, and would wave to the parade from the upstairs porch.

Sheika still looks with pride to those days.

"How many towns can say they have a President of the United States at their parade?" she said.

The growth of Vail's Fourth of July celebration was always intentional. Merv Lapin is another resident of 50-plus year. Lapin,has lived on Meadow Drive, along the parade route, for many of those years.

"Vail's a natural place to come for a family holiday, and you can't get any more family than the Fourth of July."

But Vail's parade has always focused on local participants.

"In the early years, there were more local people in the parade than locals watching," Lapin said.

That's changed, of course. And the intended growth has been gradual, helped, Lapin said, by the fact that Vail and Avon hold their celebrations on different days.

The first real shot in the arm for Vail came in the 1970s, with the publicity the Fords brought. But in the past dozen years or so, the town has made a concerted effort to grow the parade and other Fourth of July events.

A focused effort

Mark Gordon has for several year served on the Vail Commission on Special Events, which works to bring events — and people — to town.

"No one set out to make this the biggest day of the year," Gordon said. "It's really an outgrowth of the economic development strategy the town of Vail has worked on since about 2002."

Now, as then, people love the parade and other events.

James Deighan of Highline Sports and Entertainment has been the parade's announcer for the past several years. Highline is also the event's producer.

"I've announced events all over the world and this is my favorite," Deighan said. "People are just smiling from ear to ear… It's Americana at its finest."

That slice of Americana still depends in large part on locals' contributions to the parade. While Deighan pointed with pride to the fact that a marching band from a Denver high school is coming to Vail for the first time, the parade just wouldn't be the same without the people we all expect to see.

Packy Walker usually has a humorous take on a local issue and walks the parade solo. He's back this year. So is long-time political gadfly Michael Cacioppo. A group of local motorcyclists will be at the front of the parade, as usual — "I think they watch the rest of the parade from the patio at Bart & Yeti's," Deighan said.

And, of course, the legendary Vail Precision Lawn Chair Drill Team will be back.

"People love them," Deighan said.

While it's hard to imagine more people showing up for the Fourth in Vail, Gordon said the town isn't done looking for ways to put on a great show.

The parade, he said, is just another example of "Vail being Vail — we're known as the place where there's always stuff going on. That's what people come for."

But, Gordon added, "There's always room for improvement. We're always looking for the next thing — better ways to manage crowds, or to make events better."

For Monday, though, be sure to get into town early. There's a lot going on.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

Fabulous Fourth highlights

• 8 to 9 a.m.: The Vail Interfaith Chapel is hosting a pancake breakfast.

• 10 a.m.: The parade begins, and lasts until noon or so.

• Parade grand marshals this year are Vi and Byron Brown.

• 2 p.m.: The Bravo! Vail/Vail Valley Foundation annual patriotic concert at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater features the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Ticket proceeds benefit the Vail Veterans program.

For more information, go to http://www.vailamericadays.com.