Patrick Henry High School horticulture teacher Kevin Thayer (front) rides on a hay wagon with the school's FFA students during last year's Washington County Fair Parade.

ABINGDON, Va. — An Abingdon woman wants to bring back the same charm to a small town parade she enjoyed when she was a child.

As a board member of the Washington County Fair, Connie Reynolds hopes this year’s parade, which will kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday, will make a comeback after several years of dwindling participation.

“I want my grandchildren to go out on the streets of Abingdon on a September fall day and watch a parade go by,” said Reynolds, who remembers her first fair parade when she was in fourth grade.

“If we don’t turn things around, our youth are not going to have a parade — or even a fair —to go to.

“I think that’s one of the real treasures we still have living in a small town.”

When Reynolds showed up to take photos at last year’s parade, she was astonished to see a dramatic decrease in entries and a noticeable lack of spectators along the parade route.

“I thought to myself that we had to do better than this. This can’t be our parade,” said Reynolds, who began putting together ideas to help prevent her hometown parade from becoming a thing of the past.

“The parade is really struggling, and I want to do what I can to improve it,” she said.

Reynolds remembers the parade used to be a big deal in town.

“The Saturday of the parade, you didn’t count on having many customers because traffic was closed,” said Reynolds, whose family owns Abingdon Equipment, formerly located on Main Street.

“We shut the doors of our business and went outside to watch. It was something to see. If we didn’t get customers waited on between 8 and 9 a.m., they had to come back after 12 because the parade would run two to three hours. Now, we’re lucky if it goes for 20 minutes.”

The 69th annual Washington County Fair will be in full swing from Sept. 10-15, after the kick-off parade on Saturday, a change from having the parade close out the fair each year.

“Everybody loves a parade,” said Roger Garrett, president of the county fair. “We want to draw attention to the county fair through the parade and get everyone on board. It’s Washington County Fair time.”

Reynolds said floats decorated with the theme of the fair, “An All-American Flair at the Washington County Fair,” will be judged and awarded prize money of $300 for first place, $200 for second place and $100 for third place.

Reynolds is partnering with parade volunteer Gayle Lawson to help boost interest in the event.

“The parade is a long-time tradition in Abingdon,” said Lawson, who has given countless hours to managing the parade for nearly 20 years.

“Once a year, the community gets an opportunity to come together and see what great things the different towns are doing. I think that’s the best part of the parade.”

The four high school bands in the county will converge as one musical group and will help lead the parade.

Active military and veterans will be given a free day at the fair on Sept. 11 in support of the patriotic theme.

“The VFW in Abingdon and other areas have been contacted, and we’ve pulled in everyone who has something to do with veterans,” said Reynolds.

“It’s a multi-function purpose. Their participation will help us to honor the active military and veterans, and it will build our parade.”

Members of Greendale Chapel in Abingdon are creating a parade float that will honor veterans in the church and members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1994 in Abingdon.

Reynolds is inviting the community to be part of the parade.

“Let’s start a revival of our small town parade.”

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Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at news@washconews.com.

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