July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:39 PM
"Often, stories about Oak Harbor in this newspaper detail plans to make it better, bigger, more attractive to tourists or business interests.And many of the plans are solid, well-conceived, and if realized, likely to enhance the lives of many.But on a warm, blue-sky day like yesterday, when thousands of adults, teen-agers and kids turned out to either march in or watch the town's annual Fourth of July parade, sleepy old Oak Harbor looked pretty good. As is.Granted, the parade didn't pass any destination hotel/conference centers. Nor was there a pier, waterfront promenade, or Nordstrom flagship store to march by.But in how many other towns can you get two Navy EA-6B Prowlers and a P-3 Orion roar overhead to signal the start of your parade?Or have service clubs like the Rotary turn out in droves to help with logistics.And notably, how many towns have you lived in where bystanders call out to each other across the parade route, or walk alongside floats to talk with friends and neighbors? According to local historian and author Dorothy Neil, Oak Harbor has been celebrating the Fourth of July with a parade of some sorts for more than 70 years.Before then, in the 1920s, folks would gather downtown and sort of mill around.Yesterday, 109 groups marched or drove down Pioneer Avenue and thousands of people lined the streets.They cheered, saluted and stood a little straighter as NAS Whidbey's Color Guard, Marine Color Guard and several veterans clubs marched past, secure in the knowledge that in a Navy town, patriotism is still very cool.They also oooohed and ahhhed as the Island Classic Mustang Club rolled along; laughed as the Island Clowns shuffled by; and clapped for two 4-H clubs and their critters. As marchers waved and kids scrambled to gather tossed candy or ball caps, local volunteers like the chamber's Priscila Heidecker and Heidi Kuzian orbited the parade route, talking into walky-talkies, checking clipboards, helping Rotarians keep things flowing and keeping marchers in step.As they moved along Pioneer, they passed a first-class marina, a college, a library and a base that still has the room, and the sense, to leave huge stands of trees untouched.As they passed the reviewing stand, they went by bookstores and restaurants, coffee shops and banks, hardware and furniture stores. All closed for the holiday, but all open, vital and busy most of the year.The parade ended at Ace Hardware Store.Many of the marchers and watchers strolled down the hill to City Beach Park. They headed for picnics on lush green grass or under the shade of old trees, for swimming, for waterfront carnival rides and concerts, all framed by Cascades in the distance.Oak Harbor will inevitably change and grow as the millennium passes. Hopefully, it will still be a town where people call out to their neighbors and friends at parades. Where old gentleman and young people still take off their hats and put their hands over their hearts when the flag passes by.And future Fourth of July parades in Oak Harbor might pass piers and hotels and promenades, places that enhance the town's tax base and small town aesthetic appeal.But on a warm, blue-sky day like yesterday, during an annual, small-town annual Fourth of July parade, Oak Harbor looked pretty good just like it is."