NEW ROADS — Hundreds of boats cruised False River on Saturday afternoon flying American flags and carrying swimsuit-clad revelers as part of a late Fourth of July celebration.
Boaters tossed water balloons back and forth and assaulted each other with water guns, adding to the festival atmosphere.
The party almost didn’t happen.
In June, Marc Barker had said his family, which has organized the False River Boat Parade for 10 years, wouldn’t be able to do it this year. The state had put pressure on the family to obtain a permit and liability insurance as well as provide more security for participants. The burden of the event was becoming too much for private individuals to handle, Barker said.
The city announced plans to take over the boat parade just a few days later.
Moving the event to Saturday and rerouting the parade past Morrison Parkway allowed the city to merge it with the River Rhythms Music Festival, now in its fourth year. The festival includes live music, food and beverages.
The parade has been a tradition for 32 years in New Roads, starting when Lionel Kleinpeter and some friends decided take their boats to visit one another’s piers on Independence Day. The tradition eventually turned into a floating party.
People began cruising the river and tossing water balloons at one another hours before official events got underway Saturday.
Cheryl Kirchoff was boating with extended family and friends. This is her third year participating, and her boat won Best Decorated Craft last year.
“This time, we had to get a bigger boat. We didn’t have enough decorations,” she said.
On a nearby boat, Robin Fournet and friends were staying away from the people throwing water balloons. “We’re trying not to get bombed,” she said. “We’re just out here to celebrate red, white and blue and LSU, too!”
Longtime resident George Miller stood on another boat wearing a Fourth of July-themed ensemble. He said he was happy to see the event saved. “I’m glad the mayor brought it to this end of the river. Happy Fifth of July!” he said.
“Our goal is to provide entertainment value for the local citizens and an outstanding opportunity for people from the surrounding areas to come and have fun,” Mayor Robert Myer said.
City officials were excited to be able to take over the boat parade and improve the experience for everyone. “Now it becomes a land and water event. Before, to really observe the parade, you had to be on the water,” Myer said.
Land-bound spectators watched from the boat launch and Morrison Parkway between Satterfield’s Restaurant and Morel’s Restaurant. Some people stood on the judging stand, launching water balloons and shooting water guns at boats as they passed.
The first parade began at 2:30 p.m. with a line of eight stand up paddleboards and two kayaks slowly making their way past the judging stand.
Co-owner of False River Paddle Club Aimee Moreau led the parade on her paddleboard, wearing long braids and red, white and blue jean shorts.
The paddleboard parade is a new addition this year and was organized at the last minute, she said.
The boat parade featured crafts from small motorboats to pontoons decorated parade float-like with the theme “Made in America.” The winner of Best Decorated Party Barge, dubbed the “People of Wal-Mart” boat, towed an inflatable doll in a shirt and skimpy underwear pushing a shopping cart. The costumed boat riders imitated characters from the popular website, which features unflattering photos of Wal-Mart customers.
Other boats stayed to a more patriotic theme, including one with men who had painted their chests to spell out “Made in America” in blue and red.
Myer said he plans to make the boat parade an annual city-sponsored event. “It will truly be our best new annual festival,” he said.