PROVO, Utah — Thousands lined University Avenue to celebrate Independence Day at the Freedom Festival's Grand Parade.
They cheered as marching bands and military organizations went by. Children waved back at pageant royalty on floats and screamed with delight as giant balloons went down the street.
"There’s a lot of energy and excitement because it’s the first time out and everyone’s ready," Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi told FOX 13 as she prepared to ride down the parade route.
The parade — one of Utah's largest — took place Monday after being canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Provo police estimated the crowd along the entire route was over 300,000. The city said it was the largest crowd in six years.
"It’s great to have everybody back," said the parade's grand marshal, former Governor Gary Herbert. "There’s a lot of excitement."
Gov. Herbert rode in the parade with his wife, Jeanette, and his grandchildren. He told FOX 13 he was glad to see everyone's smiles again, but added that he's reminding people the pandemic is not over yet.
"We still need to keep our guard up, make sure we get vaccinated. I know some people don’t want to do that, but the odds are better if you get vaccinated, as far as your future health," he said. "That’s common sense."
Up and down University Ave., people were excited to see the parade back.
"We’re super excited, we love it," said Jose Felic. "We’re super happy to be here!"
Laura Jaynes camped out along the parade route for a spot.
"We missed this last year, we loved this. We come every year," she said. "It’s so fun to see everyone out, all the crowds."
Even politicians appeared happy to embrace a return to normal.
"It is so great to see everyone’s smiling faces again," said Utah County Commissioner Amelia Powers Gardner.
Political leaders had something else to celebrate on Monday. They made it through the Fourth of July weekend without any major wildfires, and it appeared Utahns heeded their warnings about drought and fireworks.
Mayor Kaufusi said she had fire crews stationed in the foothills above Provo, just in case.
"We have got people on the fire roads with binoculars and we are ready for this," she said.