By Cassidy Pate, News Editor
The Belton community filled the inside and surrounding areas of Dead Fish Grill to observe the annual Parade of Lights celebration on Sunday. Hosted by Frank’s Marina, Dead Fish Grill and Marine Outlet, Belton Mayor Marion Grayson set off the sunset cannon to kickstart the holiday-inspired event.
Thirty-one boats, a record high for this festival, adorned with Christmas lights and holiday decorations floated past spectators and judges in an effort to win a first-place trophy in each of the three designated categories: Sailboat, Houseboat and The Best of the Rest. Richard Bush’s Sailboat grabbed first place, Chris Rance received first place in the Houseboat division, and Michael Pilkington won The Best of the Rest category. Each boat entry received a $100 gift certificate to Dead Fish Grill.
Rick Smith, President of Marine Outlet in Temple, took over as the leading coordinator of the Parade of Lights after his father passed it onto him.
“My dad started this event over 30 years ago, Frank Smith, and so he’s been passed for a while, but we wanted to keep this on in his tradition, and we’re very excited this year; we’ve got 31 entries, so that’s the best we’ve ever had,” Smith said.
The judges represented various organizations and occupations around the community, such as the City of Belton, the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 5-7, meteorologists and more.
“They’re judging on creativity and inspiration; the total points could be 20 for a perfect score,” Smith said.
A committee of five people – nicknamed “The Christmas Boat Parade Alliance Committee” by Smith – meets each year to ensure the Parade of Lights maintains the spirit of Smith’s father, as well as the magic of the holiday season within the community of Belton.
Jamie Garrett served as the emcee of the event and used his quick wit to preserve the attention of the parade’s observers.
“I think it’s truly unique; it may happen elsewhere on other lakes, but it’s such a great thing for Belton Lake,” Garrett said. “As we come into the offseason now, it’s good to make good use of the lake and the proximity to it; I think it’s a great event.”
In terms of what he would say to this year’s boat entries, Garrett expressed his reverence for those brave enough to adorn a boat with Christmas lights and décor.
“I’m not good with hanging up Christmas lights on dry land, so for them to do it on the water and keep all the lights on as they go around is very impressive,” Garrett said.