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Christmastime starts with WG&L parade

Morgan Seegmueller, left, and Jackie Entz smile and wave from the Chehaw float during the Celebration of Lights Christmas Parade Saturday night in Albany. The “All Creatures Great and Small” themed parade recogonized the 75th anniversary this year of Chehaw Park.

Morgan Seegmueller, left, and Jackie Entz smile and wave from the Chehaw float during the Celebration of Lights Christmas Parade Saturday night in Albany. The “All Creatures Great and Small” themed parade recogonized the 75th anniversary this year of Chehaw Park.

ALBANY, Ga. — The grand marshal of the 21st Annual Water Gas & Light Celebration of Lights parade Saturday brought along an entourage that screeched, slithered and played possum.

Jim Fowler, well-known naturalist and native of Albany, was given the key to the city during the “All Creatures Great and Small” themed parade.

“This is great fun. I’ve been in the Orange Bowl parade, the Rose Bowl parade and others,” Fowler said, “but this one has real meaning to me. It is my hometown community parade.”

photo

Joe Bellacomo

From left, U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D–Albany, reads a Congressional Record citation honoring famed naturalist and grand marshal Jim Fowler as Fowler waves to the crowd during Albany’s Celebration of Lights Parade.

photo

Joe Bellacomo

Famed naturalist and Grand Marshal Jim Fowler, left, is congratulated by Master of Ceremonies Kurt Baker after receiving the "Key to the City" during Albany's Celebration of Lights Parade Saturday with its animal theme, "All Creatures Great and Small."

Moving slowly east on Pine Avenue, Fowler stood through the roof of his bamboo-framed safari vehicle acknowledging the thousands of people lining the street to view the parade.

Close behind him, Chehaw’s Zookeeper Kevin Hill walked alongside a safari camp float holding Athena, a blue and gold macaw. She stopped screeching because Hill bribes her with sunflower seeds.

“That’s the secret to bringing a macaw to a parade,” Hill said, “sunflower seeds.”

Staff members from Chehaw walking with Hill held a ball python named, what else, Slinky, and a possum named Gidget.

And the creatures just kept coming down the parade route. First-year participants in the parade, Trumpet of God Ministries and Training Center carried a blue-furred “catoon” on their float.

“His name is Eli and he is our mascot,” said Ann Milton, a youth leader. “He is half cat and half raccoon.”

Whatever he is, he fit the creatures great and small theme. Following the theme, WG&L employees voluntarily dressed in costumes to meet and charm children along the parade route.

There was at least one gorilla, lion, piggy and elephant among the other creatures mingling with the children along the route.

Finding seats early on the bleachers along the route has become a tradition for many at the parade. The Clyde family has been coming to the parade for at least 20 years. Christopher Clyde and his wife Susie brought their grandchildren Kentireon and Dykireiya to the parade.

“This is really part of our Christmas tradition,” said Christopher Clyde, who staked out seats at 4:30 p.m. for the 6 p.m. parade. “We brought the grands. It is a lot of fun and we appreciate the parade.”