A patriotic assortment of red, white and blue balloons adorned the Amherst County Sheriff’s Office’s float pulled along by a large John Deere tractor.
Amherst County High School Principal Derrick Brown played drums while walking alongside the school’s marching band with a bright smile as if the 2004 senior class president of ACHS was a teenager again.
A young boy in a blue hat was excited as an array of fire trucks passed by, walking up to the sidewalk’s edge and declaring for all to hear: “I like this parade.”
Of those festive scenes and many more during the First Annual First Responder Parade and Celebration in Amherst Saturday, one in particular town officials were thankful to see was the sun shining in a stretch of blue sky west of South Main Street, prevailing over the threat of rain and dark clouds.
While rain had poured across Central Virginia earlier in the day, by the parade’s start at 5 p.m. several hundred people lined South Main and Second streets and the event took off with just more than 50 parade entries, including many branches of law enforcement and public safety.
Town of Amherst Police Chief Bobby Shiflett and the town organized the new summer parade with a concert featuring country music singer Tommy Wood and a fireworks display following.
The parade included a new route kicking off from the Amherst Public Library, heading north up South Main Street, taking a right onto Second Street and ending at Second Stage Amherst, a measure town officials have said was aimed at easing traffic congestion on U.S. 60.
Jessica Martin, of Madison Heights, was among gatherers who enjoyed watching her daughter, Kaleigh Bennett, a rising freshman at Amherst County High School, play saxophone for the marching band.
“It’s good to have something to do to celebrate the Fourth,” Martin said.
Jackie Hodges, a Madison Heights resident and Bennett’s grandmother, said she usually attends the town’s Christmas parades and enjoyed the new summer parade.
“I think it’s great,” Hodges said. “You don’t have to go to Lynchburg and fight traffic.”
Sarah Norconk and Becca Bain, both of Amherst, brought their children to the parade and fireworks show that kicked off behind CVS in Amherst shortly after nightfall.
“It’s just something to do in the town,” Norconk said. “You don’t have to go too far.”
Bain said she liked the new parade route and thinks it works better.
“Everybody likes fireworks,” Bain said of the evening’s finale.
After the parade ended, a large crowd gathered at Second Stage Amherst and engaged in cordial conversations in the venue’s parking lot while waiting in line for free watermelon and ice cream.
Maggie Doll, who graduated from Amherst County High School more than a decade ago, said her nearly 2-year-old son especially enjoyed the parade and constant presence of fire trucks.
“He got to yell out ‘truck!’” Doll said. “Great day for him.”
Doll said she recalled going to a summer parade in Amherst in the 1990s.
“I think it’s awesome,” she said of the town organizing an annual daytime summer parade. “It’s like a nice little community thing to do. I appreciate it.”
Longtime Amherst resident Bill Wydner said he liked the new parade route.
“It was nice. Couldn’t have been no better,” Wydner said of the parade. “I enjoyed it. I hope they keep on doing it.”
The town plans to use the same route as it takes on organizing the annual Christmas parade. The Amherst Lions Club had organized the event for years but recently stepped down from the duties.
Amherst Town Councilwoman Sarah Ogden said she felt the parade went very well and she feels the new route served as a good trial run for the Christmas parade. She liked seeing local residents fill the streets and was glad the weather held up.
“I’m excited to see fireworks for the town so [residents] don’t have to travel to other localities,” Ogden said. “This is an awesome community event for the town.”