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Clay readies for ‘busiest’ day of events in county history

Five parades, three special events, circus are all planned for Dec. 9

Posted 11/22/23

FLEMING ISLAND – What happens when five parades, three special events and a circus are all scheduled on the same day? Answer: challenges never seen before in Clay County. As Dec. 9 inches closer, …

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Clay readies for ‘busiest’ day of events in county history

Five parades, three special events, circus are all planned for Dec. 9


FLEMING ISLAND – What happens when five parades, three special events and a circus are all scheduled on the same day? Answer: challenges never seen before in Clay County.

As Dec. 9 inches closer, officials are preparing for what promises to be the busiest day in county history. Even if everything runs smoothly, several county departments, including the sheriff’s office, fire rescue, emergency management and the Green Cove Springs and Orange Park police departments, will be stretched thin.
Last week, Cook organized 35 other first responders to set a strategy for each event. She called the demand for law enforcement and fire rescue that day “a heavy lift.”

“The goal is to go through the manpower lift,” she said. “That’s why we’re going to start messaging it now. I got a sense pretty early on that there were very few people who holistically knew all that was happening very early on. It is going to be a very busy day. This is a lot for this county in one day.”

The biggest focus will be on the parade in Oakleaf. It’s the first year for the event, so the sheriff and fire rescue offices don’t know what to expect.

“This one scares me,” CCSO Lt. Mike Lane said.
CCSO is aware of issues with a Halloween party at the Oakleaf Plantation clubhouse. The private event quickly escalated into an uncontrolled mob after uninvited revelers crashed the party.
Lane created a strategy for each event, including identifying a commander, a radio channel and a command center. The day is supposed to be so demanding the Emergency Operations Center will be activated in the same manner as a natural disaster or imminent threat.

One of the greatest concerns at Oakleaf is parking. The parade will start at the Oakleaf Baptist Church, proceed north to Plantation Oaks Boulevard, and end at Oakleaf High. The route includes several private developments.

“We are closing two major thoroughfares and the north end of our county for an extended amount of time,” Lane said. “We’re actually cutting off a few neighborhoods while the parade’s going on.”

The sheriff’s office said it hopes parking lots at Oakleaf Village Elementary, Oakleaf Junior High and Oakleaf Athletic Association will be available. Lane said people shouldn’t park in residential areas since that will restrict traffic and block driveways.

Oakleaf Plantation Parkway will be shut down to all traffic until the final float turns onto Plantation Oaks Boulevard. Oakleaf Plantation will reopen, and Plantation Oaks will be closed when the parade approaches.
And more than 3,400 people have responded on the Oakleaf Community Events page on Facebook about the parade.

In addition to the 48 deputies on regular patrol, Lane said CCSO will have 66 deputies and police officers from other jurisdictions working the special event, including 19 at Oakleaf.

Lane said the Oakleaf parade must follow special guidelines. Everybody in the parade must be in a car or on a float.

“We cannot have anybody walking in this parade,” he said. “That way, we don’t have to wait three hours for the marking band to come through.”

Paraders will start organizing at the church at about 5 p.m., and the event will start an hour later. Organizers plan to host food trucks and vendors during and after the parade.
Besides Oakleaf, Dec. 9 will include returning, beloved parades in Keystone Heights, Middleburg and Penney Farms, as well as the Whitey’s Fish Camp Boat Parade.

“One of our saving graces is these are annual events, so we have some experience with them,” Lane said.

The Christmas Parade in Keystone Heights will start at 6 p.m. It will stage at Keystone Heights Elementary and start at the corner of SW Pecan Street and Lawrence Boulevard. It will move north on Lawrence and turn left on Flamingo Street behind Dunkin.

The Middleburg Christmas parade will start at 7 p.m. from Omega Park on County Road 218 and proceed east before making a U-turn at Pine Avenue and returning to Omega Park.

“This is a very heavy lift because we have a lot of side streets,” Lane said.

Penney Farms’ Christmas Parade will start at 9 a.m. and be completed by noon. It is a closed event inside the community but will still require six deputies.

The Whitey’s boat parade will start at 6 p.m. The procession will pass through Swimming Pen Creek from underneath the County Road 220 bridge. The restaurant said it had reached capacity for the number of boats. Plus, because of the rising popularity, Whitey’s accepted reservations for tables and arranged for a free shuttle between the restaurant and Swimming Pen Elementary. There will be some lane closures on the bridge to accommodate pedestrians.

Nine deputies and both agency boats have been assigned to Whitey’s, Lane said.
A Country Christmas will be staged during two weekends from noon to 9 p.m., starting on Dec. 8 and 9 and ending on Dec. 15 and 16. Lane said more than 2,000 tickets have been sold in advance after the event moved from Apopka Drive in Orange Park South to the expansive Elrod Acres off State Road 16. The event will include 30-foot tree lighting, food trucks, letters to Santa, more than 750,000 lights, pet adoptions, live music and more than 50 vendors.

The Hometown Holiday in the Park will be at the Clarke House in Orange Park. The historic property will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tours, pictures with Santa Claus, hay, train and pony rides, holiday-themed music and a shopping village will be available. The Orange Park Police Department said Hometown Holiday in the Park usually attracts between 1,500-to-2,000 people.

River Christian Church on Fleming Island will present its Journey to the Nativity on Dec. 8 and 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., where families can tour nativity exhibits.

While CCSO hasn’t been asked to back private security, Lane said the Delman Circus will be at the Orange Park Mall for two shows – 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. – on Dec. 9. The sheriff’s office, however, must be ready to answer calls for service if there’s are any problems.