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Number of floats reduced; frustrating for Spanish Town parade organizers

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POSTED: Monday, February 14, 2011 - 3:59pm

UPDATED: Monday, February 14, 2011 - 5:31pm

BATON ROUGE, La (NBC33) -- You'll be seeing a lot of pink in the coming weeks. Flamingos have started to pop-up downtown in restaurants and store windows, part of a long-standing Mardi Gras tradition that leads up to the popular Spanish Town parade.

"This is the essence of Mardi Gras. Everybody having a good time, so much creativity, so much personal effort," says Sam Mayhall. "What more could you ask for?"

The Spanish Town Mardi Gras has become one of Baton Rouge's signature events. "It's one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life," says parade veteran David Deloch.

At one time, it was just a few people tossing beads out of a pickup truck in Spanish Town, but the neighborhood event grew into something much bigger. "Today, you probably have at least 125,000 to 150,000 downtown," says Spanish Town Mardi Gras president, Bruce Childers.

That parade draws quite a crowd, all vying for that front row seat to catch the best throws and a glimpse of the craziest floats. "I believe people come out to see just what the heck is going to happen," says Childers.

This year, expect to see less of those parade entries. Police say a permit every year only allows for about 75 floats, but last year Spanish Town had double that amount. "It went from 75, to 100, to 120, and last year it reached 130," says L'Jean McKneely with the Baton Rouge Police Department. "We need some consistency."

Safety is the biggest reason for regulating the restrictions. They say the increase in floats means they have to block the roads much longer. But organizers aren't too happy with the regulations. They use the parade and ball as a fundraiser for local charities. Their money comes from float entries.

"Toning down the parade or cutting it's size is not a good thing for the charities," says Childers. "And I don't think it's good for the spectators either." Recently, the organization raised more than $80,000 for local charities. Last year, Childers say they raised about $60,000.

Even though parade-goers will see a shorter spectacle this year, organizers say the idea behind the celebration remains the same. "It's just a hodge-podge and melting pot of ideas, and you just never know what they're going to come up with."

This year's theme for the Spanish Town Mardi Gras is related to the biggest story of the year, the BP oil spill. The parade for March 5th. Learn more about the parade, the ball, and the charities at http://www.spanishtownmardigras.com/

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This parade has a lot of tradition behind it. I have been taking my girls since the beginning and we have standing plans every year with friends that live downtown. It's a big deal for us and shortening the parade is ridiculous. No-one is bothered by the street closures because they are at the parade. If you let it run one year it shouldn't be a problem to do it again OR an easy solution is to have two parades!

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