Founder’s Day Parade not marching this year

One of the city’s most cherished traditions, the annual Founder’s Day Parade, will not roll down Fifth Avenue this year as part of the March 5 Founder’s Day Celebration.

The annual parade to celebrate the founding of Abbott Station, now Zephyrhills, has been taken off the day’s schedule after a vote last week by the Main Street Zephyrhills Board of Directors to keep two major Zephyrhills events from battling for sponsor funding and city resources, according to Main Street Director Faith Wilson.

Instead of a parade, a food truck rally and a live band at Times Square has been scheduled for the evening of March 5 to celebrate Founder’s Day.

Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ and Blues Festival, the signature fundraising event for the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, will be held at the Zephyrhills Airport Venue Saturday March 5; the same day the Founder’s Day Parade was initially scheduled. Wilson said city resources that would assist with parade like police support and public works personnel are committed to BBQ and Blues. In addition, key sponsorship funds from local businesses are dedicated to BBQ event as well.

Wilson said there was discussion of moving the parade to the following week; however she said there were concerns of people from the city working overtime two weekends in a row. She noted that sponsorship dollars would also be hard to come by from the same sponsors committed to the chamber event.

“We also don’t want to go after the same sponsors and take money away from them,” Wilson said. “We’re not here to hurt our fellow Zephyrhills organization. It has put us in a pickle.

“I can’t say I’m happy with the outcome. We’re also trying to be considerate of everyone else involved.”

Also not happy with the outcome is Zephyrhills Mayor Gene Whitfield.

Whitfield has been part of the parade for years and has taken generations of his family to see the traditional event that helps the city maintain its small-town identity.

“I am absolutely disappointed,” said Whitfield, who was unaware of Main Street’s decision to cancel the parade. “I think they can do some other alternative like have it a different time, at night, later in the month.

“The Founder’s Day Parade to me is tradition. If there was a night parade, I don’t think it would be a bad thing at all.”

Whitfield “hates to see it go away” and eventually lead to elimination.

“Sometimes this is the first step of something going away for good,” said Whitfield, who is a proud traditionalist. “I don’t want that to be the case.

“While I understand why the parade needed to be moved to a different date, to allow resources of the city to re-organize following the Pigz in Z’Hills event, but the tradition of the Founders Day Parade, which is 72 years old, should not be easily pushed aside.”

In the past, Pigz in Z’Hills BBQ and Blues was held in January or February. The schedule changed this year when BBQ and Blues became the host for the Florida BBQ Association State Championship.

The Founder’s Day Parade has traditionally been held the first or sometimes, second Saturday of March. Last year the event was cancelled because of city COVID restrictions where the city issued a moratorium on issuing public event permits because of the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“We are known for our small-town America feel,” Whitfield said. “We have to preserve our history, historic homes, buildings, parks and customs.  Our City Council and I strives everyday to manage city growth because this is our hometown and we are passionate about its past, its present and its future.  

“It’s our hometown America and it’s the parades, events, sense of community and the people who love Zephyrhills. I say let’s revisit the idea of a Founders Day Parade in April.”

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