The tens of thousands of people who attend next month's Independence Day Parade in Bel Air will find a major difference: The parade route is being reversed from past years.
The change was announced Tuesday by the Bel Air Independence Day Committee, which cited several reasons, including making fireworks viewing locations more accessible, improving spectator experience and reducing disruption to neighborhoods and businesses.
Essentially, the parade will run south to north, rather than north to south, while following the same route as in past years. Or, in the words of a committee statement, the parade "will now start where it previously ended, and end when it previously started."
The 2015 parade will begin at the intersection of South Main Street and Idlewild Street and end at the intersection of North Main Street and East Gordon Street near the Historical Society of Harford County.
Spectator areas along Main Street won't change, but the reviewing stand will be moved in front of the Harford County government administrative office building at 220 S. Main.
Those attending the subsequent fireworks display over Rockfield Park should be able to more easily reach that area from the new location of the reviewing stand, the committee said.
The change was triggered by the sun, which by the time the parade begins at 6 p.m. usually leaves the thousands of spectators on the northeast side of Main Street looking directly at it, parade chairman Michael Blum said.
"This was prompted more than anything else by the difficulty we had looking down the parade route at the units approaching, because everyone was blinded by the sun," he said. "'Too bad they don't march in the other direction, we thought, and somebody said, 'Wait a minute...'"
Blum said the switch was first proposed during a committee meeting last fall.
"I then drove the entire route, back and forth, staging area to dispersal, trying to visualize what it would take to reverse it," he explained in an email. "I came to the conclusion that reversing it would be a benefit, for many reasons, most of all because of the difficulty we've been having staging the parade, using the radiating streets (West Gordon, North Main, East Gordon, Bond) and five or six different parking lots and trying to get it all together."
"Reversing it means we can tell everyone to go to the intersection of South Main/Emmorton Road and MacPhail and then we can then put the entire parade in order in the staging area, just as we used to do years ago, by division," he continued. "This will give our marshals more authority and much more to do, which is a good thing, and puts the entire parade much less random and much more pre-planned."
Blum also said the change should mean much less of an impact on neighborhoods and a few businesses that are open, "but that wasn't our intent – just a favorable by-product of the change."
"Since 1992, when I took over the leadership of the parade, we've had six or seven different parade routes and staging areas, changing plans as dictated by public safety needs, road construction events and our desire to take advantage of the attractiveness of the town," he said.
"The ending point for decades was at South Main and Idlewild, but that tradition was based on the parade being followed by fireworks over the Bel Air High School/Middle School complex," he said. "Now that the fireworks have been for years fired off over Rockfield Park, we took a look at how we could stage the parade and give the community the best view of it, and this is our conclusion."
Applications to join the 2015 Bel Air July 4 parade are still being accepted. Complete instructions and application forms are available at http://belairjuly4.org.