More soap box derby cars, a fireworks show packing extra punch and a legendary Alaskan are some of the things to look forward to at this summer's Juneau and Douglas Fourth of July celebrations.
University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh will be Juneau's grand marshal, which involves waving to onlookers and representing this year's theme, "Freedom of Speech."
Pugh was selected for his involvement in the community and work at the university, said Juneau Festival Association and Juneau Parade Committee Director Gerald Dorsher.
A university is the ideal place where freedom of speech can be expressed and debated, Pugh said. But people don't have to be political to participate in the parade.
"If anyone wants to do something, they can do it in the parade," Pugh said. His daughter dressed as a clown one year and inline skated through the crowd.
Dorsher said the theme was chosen because U.S. troops in Iraq are defending Americans' freedom of speech. He did not comment on last year's controversy over the committee's proposed limitations on participants it considered inappropriate.
But language in this year's sign-up form addresses the issue: "They (the committee) will approve any legal parade applicant regardless of the entry's content or message. Public authorities or interested onlookers may of course seek to discipline in the courts any entrant whose speech exceeds the wide boundaries the First Amendment allows."
The Juneau entry fee is $35, and the Douglas parade requires no fee.
The Juneau parade starts in a parking lot near the Department of Labor on Eighth Street and Egan Highway and loops through South Franklin Street, Front Street, Main Street and back to the bridge on Egan Drive.
Longtime Douglas residents Fred and Jirdes Baxter will be grand marshals of the island's parade. Jirdes Baxter was honored in March for being the last survivor of the 1925 Nome diphtheria epidemic, in which a dog sled team heroically mushed over a thousand miles from Nenana to deliver serum.
"At the time I was 11 months old," said Baxter. "I only remember what my mother told me."
The run was the genesis of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and Baxter was invited to ride along a sled for 11 miles.
Pat Peterson, president of the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, said the soap box derby cars were popular last year and he expects a bigger turnout.
Ron Flynn, director of the fireworks show, said 500 to 600 tubes are on order for a spectacle he envisions to focus on a grander finale, rather than a longer chain of explosions.
"On the average, it's the biggest fireworks show in the state," said Flynn.
The fireworks, ignited from a barge in Gastineau Channel, will go off at midnight the morning of July 4. The parades for Juneau and Douglas will start at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively.
Andrew Petty can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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