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story.lead_photo.caption Quinn Wilson/FULTON SUNParticipants during the eighth annual Independence Day Parade of Callaway County smile and wave on board their tractor float.

The annual Independence Day Parade will return this year to downtown Fulton.

Members of the Fulton City Council gave the parade the go-ahead during their June 9 meeting. Organizer David Beaver knows all too well that this year is different — though cases have slowed in Callaway County, the nation is still in the grip of a global pandemic.

That's why the 2020 parade's grand marshal isn't one person, but many.

"This year, we're honoring going to honor all the doctors, nurses and everyone in Callaway, EMS, responders who've taken charge of all this and kept Callaway and Fulton in somewhat better (shape) than a lot of the rest of the country," Beaver said.

This is a change from the original plan, Beaver said.

"General (Byron) Bagby was going to be the grand marshal, but with flights and trying to get here from D.C. and his daughter's supposed to have a baby the next day — being a grandpa's a lot more important than this parade," he explained. "We've put him off to next year at his request."

Bagby is a retired U.S. Army major general and 33-year armed forces veteran. He also serves on William Woods University's Board of Trustees and previously filled the same role at Westminster College from 2012-17.

First responders served as the parade marshal during the 2017 July 4 parade, but their role has perhaps taken on a new relevance in the community since the arrival of COVID-19.

Beaver urged attendees to spread out and follow social distancing guidelines recommended by health authorities. He noted that the parade typically only takes 40-50 minutes — researchers have found that a longer exposure time to infected individuals increases the risk of contracting the disease, so lengthier events carry more danger.

"I just want to make sure everyone's aware we still need to be staying apart from each other and social distancing," emphasized Ward 3's Lindsey Pace-Snook. "The Fourth of July parade is something a lot of people enjoy and I think that's something we can still accomplish."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends staying at least 6 feet away from non-household members, wearing a cloth face mask in public, covering coughs and sneezes and frequently washing hands with warm soap and water or a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.

Beaver and several of his local veteran friends launched the Independence Day Parade in 2012. Years ago, Fulton residents celebrated Independence Day on a piece of private property, but when that was sold, the event stopped. Beaver and his friends decided July 4 shouldn't pass unmarked in the county.

"When we started this — this is the ninth one — I really thought it was not going to be as big a deal as it's become," he said. "It is our country's birthday and people in the county and city have responded well. I'd hate to not do it but I want to make sure everyone's aware we need to spread out."

Typically, the parade begins at 11 a.m. July 4 at the south gate of William Woods at 12th Street and ends in Memorial Park.

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