By Cassy Fiano-Chesser
With so much water access in the First Coast area, there’s no shortage of boat parades during the holiday season — but the Palm Valley Boat Parade is, as they say, not your average boat parade. Originally started by local families almost 40 years ago, it’s now become a much-cherished community tradition. This year, the Palm Valley Boat Parade will be held this year on Dec. 7, at 6 p.m.
“It was a fun way to try to commemorate and celebrate the holidays with family and friends,” Beacham Still, chairman of the boat parade, said. “It’s grown over the years; at its height, I guess there were close to 30 or 35 boats. It had fallen off, but we’ve been revamping it and have had 25 boats from around the city and around Florida.”
The parade makes its way through seven miles of Palm Valley’s Intracoastal Waterway, and is marked by its laid back, friendly nature. And while the lighted boats are enough to thrill many, this parade is also different because there is interaction between participants and spectators. And there’s more than just boats, too.
“There’s a dock decorating competition, judged by the participants on the water,” Still said.
The parade also raises money for the Palm Valley Community Association, which gives donations to local charities. Those who want to watch the parade are welcome to stop by five local restaurants on the parade path: Barbara Jean’s, Valley Smoke, Palm Valley Outdoors, Lulu’s, and the Palm Valley Fish Camp.
“We encourage folks to go to the restaurants the night of the event, have a party of sorts, and all of those places have docks that provide public viewing areas,” Still said.
For people trying to decide which boat parade to catch this holiday season, the Palm Valley Boat Parade is different than some of the more well-known ones held around Jacksonville.
“The confined nature of the Palm Valley canal, and the interaction between the attendees and the spectators sets this parade apart,” Still said. “In downtown or St. Augustine, you’re kind of viewing from a distance. But the close proximity allows a lot of interaction, and we judge not only on creativity and best in show, but superlatives for most spirited. There’s a lot of dancing and waving. That’s not often found in larger venues.”
Still himself has been active in the Palm Valley Community Association for years, and wanted to find a way to help his community as a small business owner.
“Palm Valley is a small area of an unincorporated community,” Still said. “The goal of the association is to kind of protect the character and neighborly spirit of our area. And the event is a 501 c (3) charity, and benefits local charities, like scholarship, beautification, and other benefits. We want to try to build the neighborly, holiday spirit. The parade has been around for a long time, but the charity aspect is a recent debut from the past few years. It’s a community event, but we want to try to use this event to benefit the community now in a good way.”
Photo courtesy Palm Valley Boat Parade
This year, the Palm Valley Boat Parade will be held this year on Dec. 7, at 6 p.m.