Gatlinburg celebrates USA with 37th Annual Fourth of July Midnight Parade

For the 37th consecutive year, Gatlinburg kicks off America’s Independence Day celebration with the nation’s first parade, which leads off at 12 a.m. on Wednesday, July 4, 2012, to the cheers of close to 100,000 spectators and features a special tribute to our five branches of military service among the many highlights of this one-of-a-kind patriotic event.

Stretching more than a mile in length, over 100 units will make their way through Gatlinburg, showcasing many elaborately decorated floats, helium balloons, marching bands, equestrian entries and a large contingent of our armed services men & women.

As soon as the street is closed late on July 3, the parade route comes alive with pre-parade entertainers that begin the excitement of what is to follow. Marching bands, colorful floats and helium balloons will navigate the streets, with over 100 entries of all types scheduled to appear in the parade.

“This will be one of the most patriotic and colorful midnight parades that the City of Gatlinburg has ever produced,” according to Special Events Manager George Hawkins, who organized the first Gatlinburg 4th of July parade in 1976 in celebration of America’s Bicentennial. “We are very excited about the entire weekend of events, which will include a three-day festival highlighting our armed services!”

Gatlinburg’s popular River Raft Regatta takes place at noon on Wednesday, July 4, beginning at the Christ In The Smokies bridge on River Road and ending at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies bridge in downtown Gatlinburg. This unmanned river raft race is open to anything floatable except balls and plastic eggs, with one category for works of art or handmade treasures, another for trash like plastic beverages bottles, and a third for small items such as pill bottles. In the past, families have entered boats made out of matches or popsicle sticks as well as little rubber ducks. Registration begins at 10 a.m., with the race beginning promptly at noon. Prizes will be awarded. Support for the River Raft Regatta is provided by the Gatlinburg Recreation Department.

Then, just an hour after sundown, the Fourth’s Grand Finale occurs on the streets of downtown Gatlinburg with a fireworks extravaganza visible all along the Parkway from Applebee’s to the Sky Lift starting about 10 p.m. Lasting about 15 minutes in duration, the sights and sounds of “the rocket’s red glare” will fill the sky as a fitting tribute to this day of celebrating freedom.

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