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In Montreat, many look forward to celebrating the Fourth of July the old-fashioned way. A full day of small-town fun planned and executed by the Montreat Conference Center, it is a homecoming for many that draws people from all over the country.

The 10:30 a.m. parade in Montreat has become so popular that folks mark their  viewing spots the night before by placing lawn chairs along streets of Montreat.  Because parking around Montreat is difficult, parade viewers are encouraged to arrive early. Many park at the Montreat gate and walk up Montreat Road to the Lake Susan area.

July 4 a day for parade-viewers to enjoy sights of folks dressed in patriotic red white and blue, riding in decorated cars and Jeeps, bikes, on horses and anything that moves. Viewers wave to Boy Scouts, Montreat campers and counselors in themed costume, to groups with creative names marked on their parade signs. There are Uncle Sam hats, nonprofit organizations, bagpipers and more. July 4 in Montreat is a day for play, for fellowship with family and friends, for community and for celebrating the freedoms we enjoy.

Participating parade units will creatively reflect this year's parade theme - “A Legacy for Tomorrow.” Montreat College president  Paul Maurer and his wife Joellen will serve as  parade grand marshals. This year Montreat College commemorates its first 100 years.

"Without question, the Fourth of July parade is the focal point of the summer in Montreat. At its best, the parade is equal parts patriotism, tradition and gratitude, all wrapped in the spirit of a huge, annual family reunion," Lauren Matthews, MRA marketing director, said via  email. "The parade connects people to friends and even neighbors they might not see at any other time of the year."

Though the holiday had been celebrated in many different ways in Montreat in years past, the current Fourth of July tradition was born in summer 1969.  Dr. Larry Wilson, director of the children's "clubs" recreation program, in 1969 hired current Montreat resident Glenn Bannerman as assistant recreation director. Bannerman, with a background in city recreation event planning,  suggested an all-day celebration on the Fourth to include a parade, flag-raising ceremony and afternoon family recreation events. That is exactly what happened that first year. And the tradition has continued these many years.

Coordinated by the Montreat Conference Center recreation staff, the 1969 parade advertisement sought participants "for anything that moves and is decorated," Bannerman said recently. That first year the parade line saw bicycles, tricycles, kids club camp groups and cottage owners with trucks, cars and pets. Year after year, the parade attracts more of the same.

The afternoon of the 1969 event included a variety of relay games for all ages on Moore Center field, as well as a greasy pole climb and a hog-calling contest.  The evening brought a firework display over Lake Susan. When  some of the sky rockets shot across Lake Susan and into the walls of the Assembly Inn, causing some spectators to take an unwanted dip into the lake to get out of the way of rockets, the conference center  decided to use the fireworks money to employ the Stoney Creek Boys to at a square dance on the Montreat tennis courts, Bannerman said.

One of the most memorable parade entries in the early years, according to Bannerman, came from the college-aged maid staff of Assembly Inn. On a push cart, they had a commode with a flower-like arrangement of toilet brushes, tissue, soaps and gloves, all in red, white and blue colors.

The theme for the upcoming parade is announced early spring. Many families begin planning their family parade unit then, Bannerman said. "It draws family members together for a common purpose. They plan for months," he said.

The role of grand marshal (or marshal couple) was added early on as a way to acknowledge new key staff members at the conference center and college, as well as  others influential in the Montreat community and on the parade planning committee.

The parade quickly grew in popularity, necessitating a large volunteer force and the help from local law enforcement. The flag ceremony soon moved to the grassy area outside Anderson Auditorium because of the large crowd.  "The parade draws just about everyone, and I think we all benefit from the good vibes the parade helps to generate," said Matthews.

"It blows my mind how large the parade has grown," said Bannerman.  "In the midst of our differences it draws us all together to celebrate our freedom."

All are invited to join the Montreat community this year for the annual July 4th barbecue following the parade. A box lunch catered by the Red Radish Catering Co. in Black Mountain includes a choice of barbecue pork or chicken sandwich, slaw, baked beans, dessert, and bottled water. Lunches will be distributed from the porch of the Walkup Building, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., following the flag-raising ceremony after the parade. Ticket prices are $10, for sale through July 1 from 9 a.m.-noon at the Montreat Post Office and during business hours through July 2 at the Montreat Store and at the Red Radish-To-Go in Black Mountain.

To participate in the parade, download the 2016 Parade Application at montreat.org and return it to the Montreat Store. Participants will assemble on Geneva Place at Appalachian Way at 10 a.m.

Raise a ruckus for the Fourth of July

(Tentative schedule. For a final schedule, visit montreat.org.) 

7 a.m.: Montreat Gait 5K Race, Montreat Gate
10 a.m.: Parade units in formation
10:30 a.m.: Parade, followed by flag-raising 

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Montreat Cottagers barbecue
1-5 p.m.: Currie Craft Center/Sally Jones Pottery silent auction
2-4 p.m.: Assorted games on Anderson and Moore Center fields

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