UPDATE: The city of Lakeland announced Tuesday it has changed the previously-announced route, citing “expense and manpower needed to properly police the grass banks of Lake Morton.”
Possible impacts on swan population are also a factor, the city said. The route will no longer loop around Lake Morton, making it shorter than previously planned.
LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — When Sally Bendele heard the news, it landed like a lump of coal on Christmas morning.
“I was just pretty upset by it. I was really shocked that that was the decision that was made,” said Bendele, who grew up feeding the ducks on Lake Morton.
In a one-time move due to road construction on Lake Street, Lakeland officials rerouted the annual Christmas Parade around Lake Morton Drive.
Lake Morton is home to Lakeland’s iconic swans, ducks and other birds.
“I know they’re used to like, every day traffic but it’s so much more, so many lights, a lot of commotion. They start the parade out with all those motorcycles,” said Bendele.
Bendele and her partner Sydney Milton started a Change.org petition calling on city officials to change the route.
“[The swans] can’t speak up for themselves and you know. It’s just not fair for them to have to retreat to the middle of the lake. They should be able to stay on the grass if they want,” she said.
“I totally understand it. The swans are an icon in Lakeland and they’re an icon for us,” said Bob Donahay, Lakeland parks and recreation director. “I’m glad that people care.”
Donahay said the safety of Lakeland’s 52 swans was heavily considered when choosing the temporary parade path.
The parade route begins at the RP Funding Center, takes Lemon Street to Tennessee Avenue, turns onto Main Street then Massachusetts Avenue and then a takes left on Lake Morton Drive.
The route loops around Lake Morton Drive and heads back to the RP Funding Center by taking Walnut Street to Orange Street.
“We made a list of all the things that could be a hazard to the swans. We’re checking that off to make sure we’ve got everything covered,” said Donahay.
Donahay said paradegoers will only be able to watch the parade from the residential side of Lake Morton Drive.
“We’re going to keep the swans on the lake side to keep them away from the people,” said Donahay.
“Not allowing people on this side of the road, that’s really great. I like that. A new route being considered would be ideal,” said Bendele.
Trash, Donahay said, is the city’s main concern for the swans.
“This year we’re gonna start at Lake Morton, start in that neighborhood first to make sure we remove all that trash as quickly as possible so the birds don’t digest any of it,” said Donahay.
Trash pickup begins immediately after the parade, he said.
Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend the Dec. 7 parade and fireworks show.