A mile of smiles: New holiday parade organizers say Dec. 2 event is ready to roll

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Grinch waves to spectators as he rides a sleigh through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

A mile of smiles.

That’s what the new Columbus Festival of Lights Parade organizers hope to see at 6 p.m. Dec. 2 when the The Festival of Lights Parade, last held in 2021 before organizers announced they were without sufficient volunteers, safety and more, will return to downtown Columbus.

And it will do so with more police and new steel safety barriers to more strongly guard the route from wayward vehicle tragedies that have unfolded during other holiday parades elsewhere in the country.

The mile-long route will be the same as in recent years. It will travel south on Brown Street, east on Third Street, north on Washington Street and west on Eighth Street.

And fireworks will follow the procession that will include a creative, homemade Santa float this year to save some $4,000 spent on a commercial float brought in for past years.

The leaders of the nonprofit Red Arch Community Events Inc., at work since September 2022 on the event that attracts an estimated 7,000 people or more, say they have built upon what JAKKS Inc. established years ago.

The name Red Arch links the red arches on the Interstate 65 bridge at the city west’s entrance and the Large Arch sculpture on the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza.

“We are appreciative that the previous planners laid the groundwork for us, and we are so grateful for that,” said Sarah Forbes, president of Red Arch Community Events Inc. “Without them and their work, we wouldn’t have such a legacy to follow.”

Previous parade leaders with nonprofit JAKKS Inc. announced the 2022 cancellation Sept. 10, citing a volunteer shortage, repeated and serious safety concerns, insurance costs and other issues. One specific safety concern has been readily apparent for several years: parade viewers, including younger, smaller attendees, wading onto a partially darkened Washington Street or elsewhere at the last second while parade entries, sometimes pulled by large, high-perched semi-truck cabs, came rolling up the street.

To address that specific safety issue. Forbes and Amy Stoughton Berquist, chief financial officer of Red Arch Community Events Inc., have added on-foot parade marshals with each entry. Part of the marshal’s responsibility is to make certain the route is clear for their entry, be it a pulled float, marching band or walking group.

Plus, a beefed-up presence of about 25 police officers will also be monitoring such safety, a significant increase over the past parades.

“We definitely feel those safety concerns,” Berquist said, adding that there have been multiple meetings for a year with police, fire department and city leaders. “And we’re taking time to make sure that we’re not missing anything.

“I believe that this will have an even safer feel.”

On related issues, the local Johnson-Witkemper Insurance, long a community partner and supporter of such large-scale past events as the Biggest Block Party Ever and Rock the Park, is providing insurance coverage amid a parade budget — including in-kind services — now healthy enough via more than 50 sponsors to have extra left over after this year’s event.

Some of that excess will be donated afterward to a local, children’s-oriented nonprofit.

And remaining budget dollars will be rolled into the 2024 parade budget, organizers said.

Plus, the duo have added portalets throughout the parade route so attendees won’t have to walk to The Commons for a restroom break.

“We and our committee (of about 70 volunteers) have really put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this, plus sleepless nights and early mornings just while going over every detail we can think about,” Berquist said. “We have been big fans of delegating … and so many people have responded. And I think part of that was because people were saddened to see the event canceled.”

Berquist, a local insurance agent, is involved in one other Christmas staple: the Toys For Tots drive for less fortunate youngsters. Forbes’ background includes training in event management.

Plus, they both are involved in a host of other local organizations and causes.

If you go

Other planned Columbus Festival of Lights events besides the parade and fireworks following (easily visible from the parade route), according to organizers:

Dec. 1

6:30 p.m. – QMIX Musical Fireworks at Cera Sports Park and Campground, 3989 S. County Road 525E, southeast of Columbus.

Now through 5 p.m. Dec. 2

Festival of Lights art auction at https://columbusfestivaloflights.com/auctions/?ult_auc_id=278 to auction local artist Donna Rosenberg’s specially created fall/wintertime painting “Eos at the Columbus Festival of Lights.” Proceeds will support children’s art programs. The work is hanging at Hotel Indigo in downtown Columbus and will rotate to other locations.

Dec. 2

Noon – 2:30 p.m. – Pictures with Santa from Columbus Parks and Recreation Department at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

Noon – 4 p.m. – Festival activities in a Non-Profit Showcase at The Commons, 300 Washington St.

4 to 6 p.m. – Reindeer Games with Columbus Parks and Recreation Department in the 700 Block of Washington St.