After last year’s blowout for the Merrie Monarch Festival’s 50th anniversary, organizers of this year’s parade say they’ll be scaling back to a more manageable size.
However, while the number of participants and the total time of the event may be reduced, the parade will continue to provide all the favorite entries that have made it such a well-loved Hawaii Island tradition, said Missy Kaleohano, the parade coordinator.
“Last year’s, from the first lead car out the gate to the fire truck at the very end returning to the stage area was about 2.5 hours. This year, it’ll be just over an hour for an individual watching. … We still have a lot of floats and individuals participating,” she said. “As of (March 28), we have 97 units signed up, representing 60-plus organizations.
“We expect (the parade) this year to be a little softer, mainly because the 50th was such a huge push and we had many participants who were specific to that event. Also, there will be the construction along Kamehameha.”
Kaleohano said that the county Department of Public Works and Isemoto Contracting — which is performing the renovation work that has reduced Kamehameha Avenue to two lanes — have both gone out of their way to accommodate this year’s parade.
“There are some points with metal plates on the road, which the horses won’t walk over, so they have made a point of either removing the plates, or if there are any, they’ll make sure they are covered with backfill so the horses will go over them,” she said.
The soccer fields and commuter parking lots along the road will be open, she added, but attendees will have to access them via Bayfront Highway, since the two makai lanes of Kamehameha are closed.
This year, the parade route will remain largely the same as in past years, but next year, once the Kamehameha work has progressed, the route will have to be cut short.
Selected as this year’s grand marshal is recently retired executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau, George Applegate.
“During his tenure as executive director, George was responsible for growing the bureau’s support of the festival which continues to the present day,” Kaleohano said.
Applegate said he was humbled by the honor, saying that he remembered attending Merrie Monarch festivies when he was 3 years old.
“I’m absolutely overwhelmed about being selected,” he said. “Honestly, I thought they should be looking at somebody else. I’ve never thought of myself as being that, but I’ve always respected the festival and wanted to help grow it and promote it.”
He added that he’s been thrilled to watch the event grow in appeal and stature over the years, along with a “Renaissance” in Hawaiian culture and Hawaii Island’s place as a worldwide tourism destination.
“(The Merrie Monarch Festival), it’s not just some tourist event. It’s about a sense of place, and culture. Merrie Monarch began and it remains the No. 1 event, in my opinion, as the thing that brought back a sense of pride in Hawaii and Hawaiian culture. … I’m just so proud and grateful that I’ve been able to serve.”
Another highlight of this year’s parade, as it is every year, will be the court of Pa‘u Princess riders. A total of six are scheduled to appear on horseback in the parade, adorned in their colorful floral costumes. This year’s Pa‘u Marshal will be Richard “Casey” Desilva Sr., and the Pa‘u Queen will be Renette U‘ilani Haili-Soares.
Another highlight will be Hilo resident Daryl “Sammie” Sampaga, a man suffering from muscular dystrophy who made headlines this year when he walked around the Big Isle in an effort to spread awareness about the disease.
Meanwhile, new entrant Big Island Biodiesel, will field four vehicles powered by biodiesel for the parade, Kaleohano said.
The 51st annual Merrie Monarch Festival Royal Parade will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.