Over the years, the Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day Parade has become an unofficial “kickoff” to another sacred event in Lawrence, says parade committee co-chair Charlie Upton.
That’d be NCAA March Madness, of course. General “fun and gaiety” aside, Friday’s parade, slated for 1 p.m. in downtown Lawrence, shouldn’t devolve into the kind of madness sometimes associated with rowdier St. Paddy’s Day celebrations, Upton promises. (Or even rowdier basketball fans, for that matter.)
“It does have the gregarious quality of St. Patrick’s Day without going overboard,” he says of this year’s 30th annual parade, which will begin near 11th and Massachusetts streets before winding its way through downtown and into North Lawrence.
Upton, who has served on the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee for about 15 years now, credits the parade’s enduring appeal to its family-friendly nature. Kids are always welcome at the zany event, he says, which this year is expected to draw roughly 25,000 people and more than 100 floats to downtown Lawrence. The Sandbar’s colorful creations are usually a big draw, Upton says, and this year, St. Patrick’s Day queens from each year of the parade will cruise down Massachusetts Street in convertibles for the cheering crowds.
Upton’s also looking forward to Ad Astra Running’s Irish Mile, a new addition to this year’s festivities slated for 12:15 p.m. Friday. The one-mile race through downtown Lawrence will see up to 150 runners competing for a prize purse of more than $1,000.
“Seeing guys running up and down Massachusetts Street with 20,000 screaming fans” will probably be one of the day’s many highlights, says Upton, a longtime race announcer who’s also slated to announce Friday’s Irish Mile.
A portion of the proceeds from the race will go toward Douglas County CASA, the Sunrise Project and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Douglas County, the nonprofits selected as beneficiaries of this year’s parade. In the 30 years the parade has been held, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade committee has raised more than $900,000 for local children’s charities, Upton says.
The parade itself, he says, is a “culmination” of several months’ hard work and charitable activities throughout the year. And for that, Upton says, he’s “really proud.”
“It’s truly a community event,” Upton says of the parade. “The people on the street recognize the people on the floats, and the people in the floats recognize the people on the streets.”
Speaking of streets, Upton also cautions paradegoers to observe the no-parking signs downtown, “because they will tow, and they will tow early and often,” he says. He also recommends resisting the urge to park — even in legal parking spots — before the morning of the parade. Those spots may be closed off later in the day, Upton warns.
The Lawrence Police Department has said road closures will begin downtown around 9 a.m. the day of the parade. Crossings of Massachusetts Street will be closed from Sixth Street to just south of South Park, 1141 Massachusetts St. Cars will be able to cross at Sixth Street during breaks in the parade, and officers will be on hand to direct traffic at Sixth and Massachusetts streets, but the parade will generally be given the right of way.