JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville boaters are making a public plea for help in saving the Jacksonville Light Parade.
It was a victim of city budget cuts last year, but the aquatic parade of lights was saved by a private-public partnership.
This year, a small committee planning the long-standing tradition needs help with funding. It's still about $25,000 short.
For 22 years, boats have gone all out, lighting up the St. Johns River the weekend after Thanksgiving. With this year's parade only three weeks away and funding up in the air, organizers say the event will be put on no matter what.
"It is our favorite event of the year," boater John Lennon said. "Thanksgiving is a just the processor of getting out and having some good ole boating fun."
John and Vicki Lennon have decked their boat out in decorations and taken part in the light parade since it began.
"We started with a 25-foot boat and we decorated it by stringing lights on PVC and wire from the boat," John said. "This boat (now) is a little easier. It doesn't need the PVC frame to hold most of the lights."
A snowman display topped their theme last year. Getting family and friends together to decorate it has become as much of a tradition as the actual event.
"We usually string anywhere from 5,000-15,000 lights on the boat and it becomes an event," John said. "Usually it takes a lot of wine to properly decorate a boat."
The Lennons are already brainstorming for this year's theme, but in the back of their minds is hope that a second year without much funding from the city won't affect the event.
"Last year, the lighted boat parade got defunded by the city, so the mayor decided to let us do a private-public venture," said Buddy Haskell, of the Jacksonville Marine Association. "So we put it on last year, but we had money from some of the downtown people, which we don't have this year."
The association is calling for more sponsors, but organizers say they won't let the two-decade tradition fall by the wayside.
"Last year we had like 70 boats," Haskell said. "This year we're trying to have 100 boat, and we're going to do the same fireworks show we had last year, but we're a little short and we just need some public help."
"If you have a boat, put some lights on it, get out there and participate," John Lennon said. "You'll meet a lot of new friends, have fun, and whether or not the city has the funds to support us or not, it's not the important thing. Getting together and showcasing Jacksonville, probably one of the prettiest cities in the United States, is the perfect way to do it."
The event brings more than 2,000 people downtown every year.
It's scheduled for Nov. 24 at 7 p.m. Boats launch from Metropolitan Park up to the Main Street Bridge, before coming back down the Southbank and ending near the Duval County School Board building.
If you're interested in donating money to sponsor the parade, contact the Jacksonville Marine Association. Its contact information can be found at www.BoatJax.com.
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