Thousands gather for Vail America Days parade; awards given for parade floats |

Thousands gather for Vail America Days parade; awards given for parade floats

Motorcycles kick off the Vail America Days Parade on the Fourth of July.
Chris Dillmann | |

Nine-year-old Ben Kronholm had an important job to do Tuesday during Vail America Days parade. He had to use a stilt to flap one of the wings on the Alpine Arts Center’s larger-than-life eagle, which was part of the display that won the Gerald Gallegos Award for Most Distinctive float, the parade’s highest honor.

“We also had a nest with baby birds we made out of paper mache,” Kronholm said. “And there’s eggs in it.”

Elements like those described by Kronholm added to the great detail of the float, which also included a paper mache corn field below the lyrics “above the fruited plains,” and a painting of an alpine vista adorned with the headline “purple mountain majesties,” in homage to the Katharine Lee Bates song “America the Beautiful.”

Alpine Arts Center owner Lauren Merrill said a group of 45 to 50 kids, ages 3 through 12, created the float in the week leading up to the parade as part of an arts center camp. Merrill’s father has also helped with the effort in the spirit of the family holiday.

“Since my dad started coming out, it has gotten bigger and more professional,” Merrill said of the Alpine Arts Center floats. “We started small and it’s evolved.”

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Merrill said the three Fourth of July float camps at the Edwards-based art center can fit about 15 kids. The fact that they’ve been selling out with a maximum number of kids during the last few years has also improved the quality of the floats, with so many kids able to focus on the various details like ears of corn or eagle’s eggs in a nest.

“They love doing it,” Merrill said.


With attendees lining the streets for the entire 1.4-mile parade route, Vail and Lionshead villages were bustling as usual. Town of Vail Transportation Manager Mike Rose said the parking situation was pretty standard this year with 1,176 cars spilling out of the parking garages and onto the frontage roads and Spraddle Creek Road.

“It’s a good solid day but by no means a record,” he said. “We had a joint effort between public works and parking and the police department so it went very well.”

The Vail parking garage was full by 8:30 a.m., which was no surprise to local families like the Horners of Eagle-Vail. Calum Horner, 11, and her sister Zaria, 8, come to the parade every year.

“We got here at eight thirty and got our spot,” said Calum Horner, holding a reusable grocery bag from the Shaw Cancer Center full of candy and gifts.


Other families weren’t as familiar with the area and enjoyed finding their way about the action. Enjoying her first trip to Vail, Farrah Datko and her two children arrived from Fort Collins on Saturday but didn’t realize there were fireworks on display in Avon on Monday evening.

“Now we know for next year,” she said.

Also visiting Vail for the first time, Smith McCuiston, of Detroit, may have been the parade’s youngest attendee at 4 weeks old. His parents, Andrew and Shannon McCuiston, said they’ve been visiting Vail every year for Independence Day with Smith’s sister, 3-year-old Lucy.

Sitting near the McCuistons was Vail skier Ernie Scheller who, at 88 years old, said he was proud to represent the side of the age spectrum opposite young Smith McCuiston.

Scheller said himself and his wife, Bert, have been attending the parade since the mid 1980s.

“We like seeing all the kids,” he said.

Covered in stars and stripes clothing from head to toe, the Schellers had front row seating on Meadow Drive courtesy of their friend Marilyn Fleischer, who has been in Vail since the mountain opened.

“My daughter rode her tricycle in this parade,” Fleischer said.

Other award categories

Event organizers said there were a wide variety of new participating groups this year and the high quality and uniqueness of the floats made it exciting for the judges and guests to enjoy the America the Beautiful themed parade. Here’s the full results:

Most Original​: Green Elephant Fruited Planes

Local retailer Green Elephant Juicery celebrated the American farmer with local, fresh and organic products. Crowds at the Vail America Days parade enjoyed the unique, interactive parade entry and the merry troupe of dancing farmers and plants.

​Best in Show​: In Flanders Field

Joe Shankland, a U.S. veteran himself, recreated this float which was originally inspired by father, who was born July 4, 1940. It’s in remembrance of all those who have given their life so that we can express our freedom, so that we can have our opinions and so that no matter what you believe in or what color you are, your opinion is as valuable as the next person. There’s not a single race in America that hasn’t served our country so when you look at the person next to you remember that they too, may have lost somebody so that you can believe whatever you want to believe.

​Best Youth: Mountaineers for America

The Vail Mountaineers Hockey Club is a nonprofit youth hockey organization dedicated to providing hockey opportunities for boys and girls, both recreational and competitive, through the principals of fair play, respect and sportsmanship with an emphasis on fun, the development of character and the individual potential of hockey players in a safe and healthy environment. The club works closely with both Western Eagle County Metropolitan District and the Vail Recreation District who manage the ice rink facilities in Eagle and Vail. This group of local youth did another award-winning job on their parade entry this year.

​Best Float​: Canine Companions for Independence

Canine Companions for Independence is an organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly trained assistance dogs. This year’s float represented the great Vail Valley junior and adult chapters and of course, the great dogs that make miracles happen.

​Best Motorized​: DanJul Family Foundation

The award winning Aqua Blue 1962 Morris Cooper was sponsored by the DanJul Family Foundation. The foundation brings hope to abused and neglected children by providing educational scholarships, dental assistance and works closely with other groups providing for the needs of these special children.

Best Marching/Musical: Gora Gora Orkestra

Gora Gora Orkestra brought the sounds of the world to the Rockies with high-energy performances. Formed in the fall of 2009, this 10-piece brass band is dedicated to making the audience dance with its infectious rhythm and own brand of feel-good music. The sound is an eclectic mix, blending old world melodies of Eastern European Balkan folk and New Orleans second-line, with the backbeat of American funk and the sultry sway of the South American tango. This happy caravan of music is comprised of seasoned veterans in the performance, education and composition of music.

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