Pedestrians and patience on parade
BAXTER — Pedestrian traffic across Highway 371 is a chief concern for the Fourth of July celebration in Baxter.
Moving the parade route, celebration events and fireworks to Baxter is creating a lot of unknowns as no one can be sure how many people will attend. Add to that a midweek Independence Day, which may mean a difference in the number of people depending on work schedules and extra days off to add to a holiday weekend.
Pedestrian paradegoers are accustomed to an ability to stop four-lanes of traffic on Washington Street during the exodus following the fireworks finale. Baxter Police Chief Jim Exsted said it isn’t the same scenario for those who may park on the west side of Highway 371 and try to cross on foot, not the least of which is speed.
On Washington Street and South Sixth Street, posted speeds are in the 30-35 mph range. Highway 371 has vehicles traveling 50-60 mph. And Exsted said Washington Street has block-to-block intersections creating breaks for pedestrian crossings.
“That’s not the case with (Highway) 371,” Exsted said.
While Baxter hopes people will park on the east side of the highway to attend the Fourth of July events, Exsted said they are being realistic. But he strongly urges people not to cross Highway 371 anywhere except at the controlled intersections at Woida and Excelsior roads. Parking is prohibited on the parade route and with businesses open and using parking spaces for customers at Fleet Farm and Target, for example, parking spaces will be at a premium. But with the numbers of people attracted to the cities for the Fourth, parking has always been scarce. No recreational vehicle (RV) parking is allowed other than in a private residences and with their permission. No RVs will be allowed on the former golf course, although people are expected to take up spots there to view the parade.
Northland Arboretum is opening its parking lot for the day and night, charging $5 per vehicle as a fundraiser for the Arb. Those parking vehicles will be able to walk to the parade route via the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
There may be other lots with pay options as well, including the Johnson Centre charging a $5 donation that will benefit the Warrior Dance Team and Integra Telephone charging $5 to benefit the Morning Rotary club.
The end of Cypress Drive by the Paul Bunyan Trail will be restricted for the fireworks launching site.
The city of Baxter is coordinating its efforts on traffic control and the road closures. There will be a significant law enforcement presence for traffic control. Since this is the first time Baxter has hosted the full Fourth of July events, Exsted said there are unknowns such as how many people will attend and where the main traffic congestion will be.
So the best advice may be to bring the bug spray, water, a lawn chair and plenty of patience for this first-time event in Baxter. If there are as many as 4,500 vehicles or more in a small area, it will take time for everyone to get home after the last glow of fireworks fades from the summer sky.
But Exsted noted it takes time for the flow of people to navigate their way home after the traditional fireworks in Brainerd as well. He said: “Patience will be the key word for the night.”