This event must take hiatusBy Steve Estes
One can never tell what tomorrow will bring in the Florida Keys.
My wife and I are still relative newbies in the community having been on Big Pine just 13 years, but we have long felt that too often the Lower Keys outside of Key West and Stock Island often get treated like the relatives no one wants to talk about.
We found that it was tough to get special events going here and keep them going. Usually the event died for lack of manpower as newer folks moved in from other areas where someone else always did these things for them and they didn’t have the initiative to go out and do them for themselves.
I can’t say that about my lovely wife. If someone else has an interesting event, she wants it for our community as well.
So it was with that mind set that we resurrected the Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade some four years ago for the Christmas holiday.
The first year we had a good crowd at Parrotdise Waterfront with more folks lined up along the causeway watching from their cars or the shoreline. And we had about a dozen boats.
That wasn’t too bad for a first year.
The following year, we were up by two boats and had more of a crowd out to watch the parade of floating vessels decorated up for the holiday season.
The next year, we reached capacity for folks to watch from Parrotdise where they could grab a drink or a meal and sit in comfort watching the brightly lit boats parade through the basin in Pine Channel. The line of cars on the causeway got longer, forcing the parading boats to travel a longer circuit.
And that was fine for the boaters.
Last year, we were up to 18 boats in the parade with another four or five decorated and anchored at various locations along the parade route, adding to the festivities. The line of cars along the Pine Channel causeway was well over half the length and again, we reached capacity for viewers at Parrotdise.
So this year, we were looking for even better results. We had a great core of parade participants who went all out to give the shore side watchers a good show, a festive crowd at Parrotdise and willing watchers along the highway, including many who stopped during their travels to watch. Santa Claus rode the lead boat and later came ashore to hand out candy and talk with the kids.
Then, the Keys’ future-history hit us. Due to business concerns, Parrotdise Waterfront ceased operations, taking from us our base for launching the parade.
In just one conversation with Florida Department of Transportation officials we discovered that the DOT would frown upon us using the causeway for all of the viewers, particularly since the event comes during the middle of December and the roadway is busy with travelers arriving from their northern homes for the winter and visitors on their way to Key West for a get-out-of-the-cold vacation.
So it is with much sadness that we have to announce that the Lower Keys Lighted Boat Parade for this year has been cancelled.
We have wracked our addled brains for weeks trying to think of an alternate location, but the dearth of waterfront establishments in the Lower Keys that would allow for a party-type atmosphere and the viewing of an on-water event have just stopped us cold.
We need somewhere that folks can watch the boat parade that can accommodate handicap accessibility, those who need out of the chill air, can serve a few drinks, maybe a sandwich or two, and allow us to load and unload Santa Claus for the parade start, and then allow the jolly fat man to visit with kids on the shore after the parade ends.
That’s a relatively tall order, and one that Parrotdise fit well, partially because the basin in front of the establishment was deep enough to allow larger boats and the bridge access was high enough to allow those same boats.
Also, there was a boat ramp close by so folks didn’t have to navigate in the dark after the parade was over to get their boats out of the water.
The event itself has been gaining steam each year, and we’ve already had about a dozen calls from people interested in either participating or watching, so it saddens us to have to cancel this outstanding event.
But we haven’t given up. This year may be in the history books, but there is always next year. Maybe the venue will reopen in some other form, or maybe we can figure out a logical place where we can successfully host the event next year.
And maybe, just maybe, someone will step up with a good idea for this year and we can hastily put something together to keep the tradition alive.
If you are that person, give me a call.