Volunteers work on new floats for Independence Day parade

PHILO — Susan Ward and more than 15 other volunteers spent the weekend reviving a longtime Independence Day tradition: making floats for the Champaign County Freedom Celebration parade.

The float builders gathered at a shed Saturday in rural Philo to build two original floats.

Ward, a co-chair of the float committee for the parade, said she hadn't worked on floats since she was in high school, but added the entire venture has been a fun experience.

The first float is designed to go along with a 20-foot inflated puppy balloon being featured in this year's parade.

"We've named the puppy Spot, so this float shows the yard where Spot lives," she said. "We have a 10-foot-tall tree with a swing hanging from one of the branches. There's also a picket fence, green grass and a doghouse for Spot. Bubbles will be coming out of it, and the float will have music."

The backyard scene is set on an old-fashioned hay rack.

Ward said children will be riding on the 17-foot-long float.

After volunteers made the papier-mache elements of the float, they spray-painted it and planted artificial daisies around the tree.

"We also used some traditional chicken wire and bought some little bird figures at one of the local craft stores to complete the scene," she said.

Close observers of the float will see the letters "CP+MP" carved into the tree.

Ward said its honors her grandparents, Clarence and Mary Lou Plotner, two residents at the Champaign County Nursing Home who are celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary on Independence Day.

The second float is more traditional, depicting firecrackers exploding in various directions.

"I think it looks amazing," she said. "We used various materials to create movements to give the appearance of a realistic fireworks explosion.

The volunteers crafted the float's fireworks out of round tubes used by contractors to pour concrete, dynamite sticks were made out of spray-painted paper towel roles and little fuses were crafted from pipe cleaners.

"Every day household items can help you to create a realistic float," she said. "With the creativity of our team we used ordinary items to make our float realistic."

Ward said some of the volunteers worked on parts of the project at their own homes and brought them to the shed to complete the floats.

"We are very happy to see an energized group of volunteers actively being involved with the parade," she said. "One of our goals is to inspire more people to make their own floats."

The parade steps off at 1:05 p.m. Wednesday from First and Kirby Streets in Champaign. The parade route goes east on Kirby as the street becomes Florida Avenue in Urbana. The route then turns north on Lincoln to its conclusion at California Avenue.

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