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Christmas on Walnut paves way for Green Cove Springs 150th birthday

Posted 11/30/23

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Spring Park has been bustling with activity and anticipation for the past month. The grounds have been neatly manicured. More than 225 Christmas trees have been erected and …

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Christmas on Walnut paves way for Green Cove Springs 150th birthday


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Spring Park has been bustling with activity and anticipation for the past month. The grounds have been neatly manicured. More than 225 Christmas trees have been erected and placed throughout the city’s iconic hub of activity. Displays are ready at the pavilion, and more than 100 letters have been dropped off in a mailbox for Santa Claus.

Christmas on Walnut is more than a party. It’s a hometown celebration befitting the spirit of a Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.

“It’s home. It’s home. Fortunately, and unfortunately, we’re having to handle different growth in the city,” said Kimberly Thomas, the executive assistant to City Manager Steve Kennedy, who organizes the annual event. “I mean, the people here, it’s a hometown, and what more of the hometown than Christmas lights, a Christmas parade and Santa Claus? It’s just a happy, joyful day.”

The festivities start at 10 a.m. with shopping along Walnut Street, other downtown streets, and throughout the park. Official events start at noon. There will be 85 vendors and 17 food trucks, but local merchants will benefit the most.

“It’s so much fun,” said Spring Park Coffee’s Valerie Kelley. “Everybody looks forward to working that day. We’ll be open during our regular hours (7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), but we’ll bring in two extra people. It’s our busiest day of the year.”

Kelley said there were “pallets” of hot chocolate on the ready.

“We love Christmas,” she said. “You definitely feel the Christmas spirit here all day.”

Cheri Starnes, who owns The Corner Pocket and Around the Corner Diner on Magnolia Street, said she will serve breakfast and lunch.

“That’s our busiest day of the year,” she said. “There are so many people, and they all have so much fun. It’s a great day.”

Public Works Field Supervisor Greg Bauer said that parade watchers will start lining along Orange Avenue three hours before the parade starts at 6 p.m.

“We do it for the community,” he said. “There are a lot of moving parts from guys who work hard. They take pride in what they do. These guys live here and work here. That’s why we do what we do.”

The Green Cove Springs Elks Lodge and a host of volunteers led by Mike McNaney unpacked, installed and fluffed 225 artificial trees around Town Hall and Spring Park. Each was sold to nonprofits, businesses, groups and families, and it only took 26 hours to sell each spot.

“The Parade of Trees is probably my favorite because of the stories I hear,” Thomas said. “There are some businesses that advertise, and there are some organizations. But most of them are in memory of, or in honor of, veterans, grandma, and family members. This year, we added 50 trees. It’s crazy because it’s an online system. I had phone calls from people who just were heartbroken. They weren’t able to get a tree.”

The 24-foot official city Christmas tree, which took more than a week to set up, will be lit at 8:30 p.m. in Spring Park. The Parade of Trees will stay open from dusk to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31.

The parade, organized by the Green Cove Springs Business League, is the cornerstone of the celebration. It starts at the Clay County Administration Building at Houston Street and moves south along Orange Avenue until it makes a U-turn at Walnut and returns to the administration building. That way, both sides of the roadway will get a close view.

The highlight of the day is a big challenge for the Green Cove Springs Police Department.

“Our No. 1 concern, our biggest priority, is making sure we have enough law enforcement officers there,” Chief E.J. Guzman said. “Second is the closure of the roads that interfere with traffic. So that’s something that we get pre-approved with the Department of Transportation to shut down (Orange Avenue). That normally goes flawlessly as long as we have enough officers to manage it all.”

Orange and all side streets connecting to it will be closed from 5 p.m. until the final parade float finishes, Guzman said.

And like last year, the department created a route along and adjacent to Orange for emergency vehicles.

“We have emergency access in and out of the area (Orange) because the road is going to be closed,” he said. “If it’s not done right, it can hamper response for emergency vehicles. We started arranging that with the sheriff 10 days ago. We came up with this last year, and we’re going to use it again. We moved the parade to (Orange) a couple of years ago. We meet after every parade and talk about things we learned.”

Guzman also expects many more attendees this year.

“It’s a big event,” he said. “And it’s only getting bigger.”