The free 2021 Festival of Lights Parade at 6 p.m. Saturday figures to be perhaps 30 minutes shorter than in the past due to entries being limited to 75 instead of the normal 100.
Joyce Lucke of the nonprofit JAKKS Inc. that coordinates the event mentioned that the move was made simply to limit the amount of time people may be clustered together amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
In the past, the gathering has attracted crowds estimated at 7,000 to 10,000 people along the slightly more than mile-long route mostly along Washington and Third streets in downtown Columbus.
“This year, I think it’ll be a complete surprise to me how many people show up,” Lucke said.
She added that she was pleased to see the weather forecast for Saturday for temperatures in the 40s at the time of the parade.
There is no student grand marshal for the event this year because students were not able to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus at the time planners were mapping plans.
Organizers are asking all attendees, vaccinated or not, to wear a mask, especially because of the large number of people expected to be in confined spaces.
Lucke mentioned that organizers have been in contact with law enforcement leaders about making certain that motorists in the area heed barricades, especially after the recent tragedy in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where a motorist struck and killed parade participants and severely injured others.
Columbus police are planning special coverage and enforcement at the parade event, reminding individuals that they are not allowed to be in the street during the parade — they must stay on the sidewalk.
For years, the parade had featured tossing candy from floats, but that has since been banned for safety reasons, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department spokesman. Parade participants are allowed to walk the route and hand out candy directly to recipients, but not to toss it in the street, he said.
A number of intersections around the parade route will be closed and staffed by CPD officers on extra patrol, Harris said.
The parade is traditionally a quiet event with few issues, although Harris reminded motorists that some detours will be in place as the parade winds through downtown Columbus.