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Annual boat parade sets sail Saturday

The 37th annual Christmas Parade of Lights is scheduled to set sail at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Las Vegas Boat Harbor/Lake Mead Marina Complex in Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The Lake Mead Boat Owners Association started this dazzling display of floating holiday lights in 1976 and every year puts up the money for event insurance and trophies for top parade entries.

“We started the parade so kids can enjoy Christmas in a place where they don’t get snow,” longtime parade participant Marty Schwartzer says. “I’m the guy who plays Santa Claus” every year.

Association member Barbara Wagner has directed the all-volunteer-run event since 2005. The parade has survived two government shutdowns of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area in its history. Wagner says the most recent closure in October did not delay planning because organizers suspected the shutdown would be over by December.

Weather has rarely canceled the parade, although “the wind was so bad past the breakers one year we had to postpone the parade after it had started,” Wagner says. The weather is closely monitored from 4 p.m. on parade day to determine whether the event can proceed, she says.

If the parade is canceled because of weather, the judges view the boats in the docks and trophies are still awarded.

“I’m proud of the fact that we’ve never had an accident,” says Rick Borden, president of the Lake Mead Boat Owners Association.

When lake levels reached new lows in 2007-08, Wagner says the association began to think about when they might have to cancel the parade, but she says lake levels are up this year. The parade route is preplanned by GPS and plotted on charts for all the boats, plus lighted buoys mark the route.

Wagner says boats 16 feet and larger are welcome in the parade — they need to have enough room on board for a generator for the lights — as long as they have a motor.

Boats can register for free up to the day of the parade, she adds. Participation is limited to 50 boats. The number of boats participating can depend on fuel prices, Borden says. The 2012 parade had 14 entries, which was almost double that of the previous year.

Borden says lower fuel prices this year could stoke turnout. This will be his 14th year participating. Last year he decorated his 45-foot Catamaran Cruiser with a Disneyland theme.

“Everyone each year tries to outdo themselves,” Wagner says.

Schwartzer says six boats were already decorated for this year’s parade before Thanksgiving. For his own 60-foot Somerset houseboat, dubbed “Dat Dam Bote,” he is building two big gift boxes with white lights to look like foil wrapper and colored lights for ribbon. In past years, he has displayed a Jet-Skiing Santa and a Hawaiian Christmas theme.

The Las Vegas Boat Harbor, host of the parade, has been privately owned and operated by the Gripentog family since 1957 and is an authorized concession of the National Park Service. Volunteer parade judges represent the various marinas on Lake Mead, with two additional judges from the National Park Service and the Silverton. The Silverton also volunteers the use of its houseboat for the judges.

There are 10 trophy categories, plus the addition this year of a People’s Choice award.

The National Park Service allows free entry into the recreation area starting at 2 p.m. on parade day. Best viewing is from Boulder Beach. Wagner says the public is welcome on the docks to view the boats and to talk to the boat captains. Both marina restaurants will be open for the event.

For more information or to register a boat, call Wagner at 702-561-7727.

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