This year's Champaign County Freedom Celebration Parade will feature several large, inflated newcomers: a 10-foot birthday cake balloon, a 20-foot puppy balloon and a 30-foot Kermit the Frog.
You won't be able to miss these balloons, plus another balloon version of The News-Gazette, as they travel the parade route July 4.
They'll join the parade as the Freedom Celebration committee works to increase the number of floats in the parade, said Ginny Schlorff, general chairwoman of the Freedom Celebration.
"I think with the economy, maybe, businesses haven't been as interested in building floats," Schlorff said. "We wanted to increase that, and looking into these balloons, considering them as floats was one option."
The idea of using balloons came from an employee at a local radio station who is from Decatur and mentioned the Decatur Celebration's balloons.
Schlorff said they looked into renting helium balloons and were close to signing a contract when the price of helium doubled and it suddenly became far less available.
So instead, organizers are renting balloons from a company that converted its helium balloons to cold air. The balloons ride on a small trailer that's not even a foot off the ground, Schlorff said.
The parade will have a fourth balloon as well, one The News-Gazette bought that looks like a rolled-up version of its newspaper.
Amy George, The News-Gazette's director of market development and special projects, said the paper decided to buy the balloon instead of building a float, and plans to use it for other expos and promotional events.
It will be 5 feet in diameter, 13 feet long and will be attached to the top of a News-Gazette van on the parade route, George said. It will be filled with cold air, as well.
This year's parade theme is "Celebrating our Youth," and the Girl Scouts are this year's grand marshal.
The parade steps off at 1:05 p.m. July Fourth 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 end at California Avenue.
Schlorff said the Freedom Celebration has worked with Urbana public works and the police and fire departments to identify potential obstacles for the balloons. An engineer also helped identify those, she said, and because the balloons deflate and reinflate quickly, those handling the balloons at the parade will use that strategy to get the balloons around obstructions.
It will only take about 30 seconds to reinflate the balloons, Schlorff said.
"They say that kids love that part of the show," she said.
It will take 10 to 12 people to handle each balloon, Schlorff said, and the rental company sends technicians that stay with the balloons as well.
If all goes well, the large balloons could turn into a tradition for the Freedom Celebration's parade
"If it's a positive response, we hope to add this to our parade every year," Schlorff said.
Once the parade is over, you can see the balloons up close on the grounds of Parkland College from 5-7 p.m. the evening of the Fourth.
In order to allow for traffic, organizers are urging people to come to Parkland earlier and will have other activities during that time frame as well, Schlorff said.
"The whole idea is to get people out there to avoid the traffic rush," she said.
The Freedom Celebration is still looking for volunteers. If you'd like to help, you can sign up at the Freedom Celebration's website, http://www.july4th.net .