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Video: Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade a Respite for Residents After Flooding

  • Paradegoers watch the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade from the bed of a pick-up truck on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, in Fairlee. The parade has started in Orford, N.H. and ended across the Connecticut River in Fairlee, Vt. for decades, but the New Hampshire side of the route was initially canceled for this year's Independence Day celebrations due to severe road damage in Orford caused by the weekend's flooding. Officials later found a way to reinstate the original plan and keep the tradition alive.(Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jordan King and Linnea Burnham watch the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade go by on Tuesday, July 4, 2017 from Burnham's home in Fairlee. The parade has started in Orford, N.H. and ended across the Connecticut River in Fairlee, Vt. for decades, but the New Hampshire side of the route was initially canceled for this year's Independence Day celebrations due to severe road damage in Orford caused by the weekend's flooding. Officials later found a way to reinstate the original plan and keep the tradition alive. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Tamara Herrera, of McIndoe Falls, left, photographs a horse named Saber, owned by Rebecca Guillette, standing on right with her other horse Stony, after the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Martina Stever, of Bradford, Vt., watches the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. The parade has started in Orford, N.H. and ended across the Connecticut River in Fairlee, Vt. for decades, but the New Hampshire side of the route was initially canceled for this year's Independence Day celebrations due to severe road damage in Orford caused by the weekend's flooding. Officials later found a way to reinstate the original plan and keep the tradition alive. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Orford — On his 39th birthday on Monday, two days after torrential rain trapped his Orford home by washing out sections of Route 25A to the east and west, Randy Schwarz learned that the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade would not go through his hometown for the first time in his life.

With Route 25A impassable, there was no way to route traffic away from the Route 10 parade path in New Hampshire, so Orford officials called their side off, leaving it all to Fairlee on Vermont Route 5.

“ ‘I’m not going to go to the Fairlee side,’ ” Prudence Schwarz recalled her husband saying, because the break from tradition would be too hard.

So when Orford found a way to push the parade back on, Randy Schwarz said he was ecstatic.

“It’s just wonderful,” he said from a folding chair along Route 10 on Tuesday, as classic cars drove by and his sons collected tossed candy off the roadway. Particularly after a rough few days, “I don’t know what I would have done without the parade.”

The sentiment was echoed by Cathy Eastburn, 50, another Route 25A resident, whose driveway was washed away in the flood. She marched with a handmade “Orford Strong” sign while wearing a snorkel, a T-shirt made to look like a bikini-clad body, and a shark-shaped floatie, which she wore like a tutu.

She joked that she was protesting the flood.

Having the parade go through Orford was important, Eastburn said, because “mostly (spectators) in Orford are from Orford, and everyone gets to touch base with each other.

“Everyone knows everyone’s OK,” she said. “(We can) step back and have fun for the day, and not worry about if you can get home, or how you’re going to get home.”

Orford Fire Chief Terry Straight said the town of 1,500 people has suffered an estimated $4 to $5 million in local road damage, not counting state roads such as the hard-hit Route 25A. With so many roads affected and no way to reroute traffic, officials initially saw no other choice but to skip a year, he said.

However, Straight said, the parade has been “going on forever and a lot of people were upset that we couldn’t do it.”

When New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu visited Orford via helicopter to survey the damage on Monday, a Selectboard member rushed over to ask the governor about the parade and secured verbal permission to close Route 10, a state highway, for 30 minutes, Straight said.

Having the parade back on was meaningful for emergency responders as well, Straight said, because they have been working nearly round-the-clock with other town employees, officials, residents and neighbor towns to restore some normalcy.

“It’s just been a mess, but we’ve all worked very well together,” Straight said.

The effort included volunteers from the American Red Cross such as Linda Nordman, of White River Junction, and Mike Kiess, of Thetford, who drove a Red Cross van in the parade while sporting red, white and blue leis.

Nordman said she was “devastated” to hear that the parade was going to get cut in half, but was pleased with the reversal because it’s a chance to show appreciation for first responders.

“They are our heroes,” she said. “Without them, we’d be screwed.”

“It’s just important to take some time to celebrate,” Kiess added, “and realize that life is fun. It’s hard, but it’s fun, too.”

The celebration was at full tilt on Tuesday, with hundreds of onlookers lining the roads on both sides of the Connecticut River. In addition to firetrucks and emergency vehicles from around the Upper Valley, the parade was packed with colorful floats, farm animals, musical numbers and people shooting water guns and tossing water balloons to help combat the July heat.

Brian Boland, of the Post Mills Airport, debuted a new crowd-pleaser: the third in his Vermontasaurus series of huge dinosaurs crafted from scrap lumber, the latest clocking in at somewhere between 56 to 60 feet long, depending on who you asked.

This one, which Boland called an “adolescent” to complement the 122-foot-long original and smaller baby, had a dragon-like flair as it shot fire from its mouth throughout the parade, eliciting cheers and raised smartphone cameras.

The driving crew included Gia Liddiard, 8, of Thetford. “It’s fun, because I get to go up there,” she said, pointing to the top.

As the beast rounded the corner to cross the Samuel Morey Memorial Bridge over the Connecticut River, it let loose a burst of flames. Sitting nearby at a picnic table outside Patterson’s Grocery & Deli were Orford residents Gerry and Rhoena Pillsbury, of Quinttown Road, and West Lebanon resident Mark Marsh, who is camping there.

Rhoena Pillsbury, 70, usually drives her white 1977 Cobra II in the parade. But due to damage that trapped the car on their property, this year the trio took a different mode of transportation to get to the route: ATVs, which they had parked out front of the store.

Even though she would have preferred to be in the parade, Rhoena Pillsbury was happy to be watching it from the Orford side, she said.

“The people need it,” she said. “We need it.”

The devastation has brought out the “typical New England friendships and neighbors,” she said, with everyone working together to make repairs as quickly as possible.

“When there’s trouble, they’ll help you. When there’s no trouble, they’ll leave you alone,” she said, laughing.

Farther along the route in Fairlee, Crystal Champagne, 33, of Fairlee, was walking with her two children and other Samuel Morey Elementary School students in a float highlighting women in the World War I effort, playing off of the parade’s theme of “1917: The Yanks Are Coming.”

Champagne was worried about congestion and the children’s safety when the parade was going to be restricted to Fairlee. But when Orford found a way to make it happen, she said, “we (were) very thankful.”

As participants slowly trickled in to a Fairlee field at the parade’s end, a crowd gathered around a 1998 Ford Contour sporting American flags, messages in support of military servicemembers and the words “Orford strong,” capitalized, across the windshield.

Orford resident Ben Trussell, 51, had just driven the car — which is scheduled to compete in a demolition derby in North Haverhill later this month — through the parade with his 82-year-old father, retired Army veteran Ronald Trussell, as a passenger, gathering veterans’ signatures across the car’s body as they went.

When Trussell found out the initial plan to cancel the Orford portion of the parade, he asked his friend Andy Moore, of West Fairlee’s M&M Custom Graphics, to do a rush-job on the “Orford Strong” graphics.

Even though the Orford portion of the parade was reinstated — something deeply meaningful to Trussell, whose grandparents are buried in town — Trussell said the message he hoped to convey was nevertheless relevant.

“We’re still here,” Trussell said. “We’re going to get through this.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.