From a birthday cake to a tugboat: Juneau prepares floats for parade

Dozens of floats to be part of Fourth of July parade

Posted: Monday, July 03, 2000

An anniversary of sorts will be celebrated by one of the entries in Tuesday's Fourth of July parades.

The birthday-cake-shaped float of the Juneau Ranger District is celebrating ``Sailing Together for 30 Years,'' said Jim Thomas of the Tongass National Forest.

``It's about the partnership between the Forest Service and the Alaska Marine Highway System, because we have teamed up for three decades to put naturalists on the ferries doing a variety of programs,'' he said. ``It's a long-term partnership, and it's been exciting.''

The float will be among dozens of moving displays in the Juneau Fourth of July parade, which begins downtown at 11 a.m. The Douglas parade follows at 1:30 p.m.

The Forest Service's cake design was cooked up by Sonya Berger, a seasonal employee who works with the Tongass Marine Highway Ferry Naturalist Program. The confection will be ``baked'' from wood, vinyl sheeting and paint.

``Crepe paper is risky in Juneau because it melts in the rain,'' Thomas said. ``So most people go with plastic sheeting for the frilly stuff. We recycle some materials.''

Berger described her cake as 4 feet tall, topped with 2-foot candles. The yellow candles have been arranged to form the number 30 -- a detail perhaps visible only to seagulls and floatplanes. The elaborate cake, constructed of 2-by-4 boards and hardboard, sports decorations that include marine mammals and Inside Passage peaks, Berger said.

``Sailing'' around the cake will be a flotilla of shipboard interpreters, each dressed as a different ferry.

Historically, floats originated in the figures of saints and religious tableaux carried on the shoulders of parishioners on European and Asian church holidays. Slowly, parades became more secular, and wheeled vehicles -- later motorized vehicles -- were introduced to carry the decorated exhibits. The most elaborate displays were recycled, or saints were dressed in new robes.

The Mount Juneau Tlingit Dancers are recycling some of the elements from last year's float, said dance leader Rosa Miller of the Auk Kwan clan. Cutting corners both saves money and enables them to assemble their float on July 3.

Last year they put a totemic canoe design on the canvas skirting for the float. Miller's son, Kevin, who works in Coleville, Wash., was here to help, and her daughter Fran Houston came in from Hoonah to lend a hand. Her grandson, Kenneth Woodbury of Juneau, also got in a few licks of paint.

``I told them, `No more last-minute stuff,''' Miller said. ``We are involved in so many things. We did a totem pole dedication at the (Mount Roberts) tram station. And the dedication of the dog salmon screen at the halfway house. So I thought we needed a little rest.''

The U.S. Coast Guard will trundle several vehicles, including a 25-foot boat pulled by a truck. ``We'll also be towing `Coastie,' our caricature tugboat, for the benefit of the kids watching,'' said Chief Officer in Charge David Rowlett.

Big KMart was planning to create a company float, overseen by Manager Darrin Ginichio. Jody Dominguez was put in charge of the float, which was to have a flower theme, Ginichio said. But there were no flatbeds to be found.

``I was looking forward to doing it, but nothing was available,'' Dominguez said.

It's a a big investment of time and effort to come up with a float, and a number of 1999 prize winners are opting out, including Cornerstone Espresso, the Baha'i, the Elks, Sealaska Corp. and Princess Cruises.

``We have three ships in port that day, so we're going to be too busy,'' said Princess' Juneau spokesman, Kirby Day.

But Day harbored fond memories of past floats, especially the ambitious 1995 version. ``The most elaborate we got was actually building a ship around a bus in 1995. The guys got big appliance boxes from all over town, painted them white and attached them to the outside of the bus,'' he said.

Some floats in the parade are not particularly ornate or original, but those riding on them are notable. For example, Pete Snyder will be aboard the Veterans of Foreign Wars' float for the 53rd year in a row. Snyder served in World War II, and he enjoys perching on the trailer decorated with bunting and flags to remind residents of the sacrifices made for freedom.

Prizes are given to floats in seven categories, including Best Centennial, Best Marching Band, Best Commercial and Most Patriotic.

``The categories help to focus us, and we look for the ones that best meet that category. We also look for how much work went into a float, and if it is original,'' said Douglas parade judge Lora Mallinger.

``I enjoy the festive atmosphere, and people really get excited when they win. It's so neat to give them the good news. They light up and get a real kick out of it,'' Mallinger said.

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