BAXTER — A first for Baxter combined with a heat index of 105 degrees this Fourth of July keeping some people home, but others were parade diehards.
“Hot,” said Nancy Cross, Brainerd Community Action director, as she monitored the start of the parade. “It’s going really well. It’s just so hot. People waited until the last minute to come. I don’t blame them.”
At 4 p.m., when the parade was about to start, Cypress Drive nearly had more trash receptacles than spectators along its route. But the crowds were thicker along Golf Course Drive. The relatively narrow street gave spectators a close view of the action. People also were clustered near the Golf Course Drive and Excelsior Road intersection and again where the parade turned onto Cypress but were more sparse as the parade made its final lap on Clearwater.
Cross said the Brainerd High School Band was one of the units that dropped out of the parade because of the heat. But about 72 parade units pressed on despite the thermometer. For a number of them, the parade in Baxter was just one of several they’d walked in for the Fourth of July.
Several parade-goers liked the route compared to the traditional setting in Brainerd, which was scrubbed this year because of the College Drive construction project. Cross pointed to the flooding at Kiwanis Park and pooling of water on the athletic field where people usually gather for the afternoon and to enjoy the fireworks. The decision to move the parade for a year to Baxter was the right one, Cross said.
Amy McLain’s group of about 13 people found a shady spot on Cypress to watch the parade. They dropped a couple people from their group off at the spot at 2 p.m.
“We thought it would be really crowded, but not so much,” McLain said. At 4 p.m., their group still had most of the block to themselves.
“I think everybody who was on the fence about coming said I don’t want to go in this heat,” McLain said. But the Brainerd resident said going to the Fourth of July parade is a tradition for the family that the heat wasn’t going to stop. It was the group’s fourth parade of the holiday and they planned to stay for the fireworks, their third for this Fourth.
“The Fourth of July is a week-long celebration,” McLain said.
A number of people questioned the closing of Cypress Drive to traffic and parking, which made it a longer walk for people if they chose to watch the parade on that side, which arguably provided the better setting with its wider street and boulevard than the narrow parade start at Golf Course Drive. A few people at Golf Course Drive and Clearwater noted the congestion there limited viewing, but there were additional options for shade.
And shade was at a premium. Swimsuits were in fashion. Floats with water guns were appreciated.
One family of regular parade-goers parked their recreational vehicle in an opening along Cypress Drive next to the former golf course and basked in its shade. They had the area to themselves until more people arrived just minutes before the parade, filling in the previously open areas on Cypress. “It’s been really good,” Tiffany Berg, Brainerd, said of the parade.
After the parade units were dousing their heads with water and packing their vehicles, Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said he thought the afternoon went well with an enthusiastic crowd.
“There were more people than I expected with the heat index the way it was,” Olson said.
The official air temperature was 95 degrees when the parade started with a sweltering dew point of 75 degrees. Water bottles were abundant and a welcome breeze kept the heat from being overpowering.
The official high temperature was just shy of the 97 degree record set in 1988. Although a number of people reported a high in Baxter of 97 degrees during the parade, quoting from their smartphones.
While there were a few umbrellas, chairs with awnings and even a tent or two, the parade route also had an abundance of sun-reddened skin.
Sarah Swenson said they’ve been parade regulars for five years. This year wasn’t going to change that, she said.
Patrick and Bev Goff of Baxter used an umbrella to create a little shade at the corner of Golf Course Drive and Clearwater Road. Patrick Goff said he liked this route compared to Brainerd because people hadn’t reserved the seating by staking it out or setting up campers. The heat wasn’t an issue for the couple.
“Nothing’s going to deter us,” Patrick Goff said, saying as long as the beverages were cold, “we’re here.”