Fourth of July turf wars

A man pounds four-foot stakes around his yard and creates a border with red tape. Groups of people sleep outside with one eye open waiting to claim their rightful territory. This may sound like war, but it is all a part of the experience for Provo Grand Parade spectators.

At 3 p.m. Tuesday, individuals were permitted to set up their tents, chairs, canopies and other equipment along University Avenue to claim their space for Provo’s 4th of July Grand Parade.

Center street opened at 5 a.m. Wednesday morning.

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A boy watches a band go by in the Grand Parade on Center Street. The parade was just over two miles long, and traveled down University Avenue and Center Street.
Gene and Argie Shumway have lived on Center Street and 600 East for the last 25 years and have watched the parade with family for just as long. It has become a family tradition for the grandkids to participate in the early morning dash to claim the “shadiest spot on Center Street,” located across the sidewalk in front of their home.

“It seems to get more intense every year,” said Gene Shumway.

Allen Ostergar came to visit his daughter who also lives on Center Street, and he agrees. A group of teenagers paid $60 to sleep on their lawn so they could get front-row seating for the parade. They also frequently get calls from “anyone we ever knew, ever” with requests to reserve a spot. But they’ve established a policy for that.

“We just tell them that family’s first,” he said.

Family is another major theme of the parade. Despite the rush to claim a spot and necessity of sleeping on the street overnight, the Provo Grand Parade has been the highlight of families’ Fourth of July celebration; and as time has passed, the parade has grown from a simple hometown experience to a time-consuming but lighthearted battle for space on Center Street and University Avenue to continue the family tradition of watching the parade.

Such is the case for Debbie Edward, a resident of North Ogden. She marched in the parade as a flag twirler with Orem High School in 1970, and it has been a tradition for her to attend ever since, even though it now requires much more effort to reserve a spot. But she thinks it’s worth it.

“(The Provo parade) is the best I’ve ever been to. I often travel with my family on the Fourth of July, so I’ve seen a lot of parades. But Provo’s is still the best,” she said.

The logistics of watching the parade can be difficult, but the focus is still on celebrating Independence Day, which is exactly what Allen DeWitt, parade chair, wants to happen. He said he ensured that all 104 entries, including about 15 floats, were focused on the importance of celebrating the United States’ independence.

“We put an emphasis on trying to celebrate a love of country … and the freedoms we enjoy,” he said. “Everything is a part of that theme.”

That theme is not lost on the parade spectators. In the many years of watching the parade, Edward has always had a good experience.

“It can get crowded, but people are still civil. They will move over and make room for others,” she said. “It’s the best parade I’ve ever been to.”

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