31st Annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick's Day Parade
Author: Frank Dunne Jr. | Photographer: Artwork by Emily Novitski
Lured by the prospect of free beer, I joined some friends as a low level volunteer working for a parade, expecting little more than an afternoon diversion. That was 11 years ago, and now here I sit in my third (or fourth, I’m not quite sure) year as a member of the Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade Organizing Committee.
How I’ve come to care so much about a small town parade isn’t totally clear, but I’m sure it has something to do with the story of how a ragtag handful of folks marching around the block—and nearly being arrested for doing so without a permit—turned into an annual spectacle drawing crowds of over 25,000 (that’s about two-thirds of Hilton Head’s entire population) and receiving a commendation from the town council 30 years later. It may just be a small town parade, but it sure seems to matter to this small town.
It matters enough that our presenting sponsor from 2013 has stepped up again this year, so here’s a big shout out to a great local company, iSelectMD. And it matters enough that Celebrate Hilton Head is giving me extra space for this hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy of The 31st Annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Thanks CH2!
And away we go…
First things first: Where is the parade?
Same as always, Pope Avenue and Office Park Road, starting at the entrance to the big Coligny Beach parking lot near Coligny Circle and marching north up Pope to Office Park where it hangs a left turn and ends in between Park Plaza and the Courtyard Building. The route uses Pope Avenue’s southbound lanes, so they will be closed to traffic from 2 p.m. through the parade’s duration. All traffic will be directed to the northbound side, with one lane for each direction. That’s important to know if you plan to be in the area, and especially if you’re marching in the parade.
For those of you who are in the parade, we use the beach parking lot as the staging area. You’ll enter through the lot’s exit on South Forest Beach Drive across from The Beach House (Holiday Inn). Bill and his merry band of volunteers will be there to greet you and guide you to your assigned (and I use that term loosely) staging position. That’s why it’s a good idea to arrive as early as possible before the southbound lanes close…traffic gets pretty hairy down there as we get closer to the start.
Speaking of that, the parade begins at 3 p.m., so it’s important that you’re all lined up and ready to go at 3 p.m. sharp; and if you want your float considered in the float contest judging, we need you there before 2 p.m., or the judges might miss you. That said, with over 100 parade entries expected the staging area becomes a rather hectic scene, so please plan to arrive as early as possible. I know I said that already, but it bears repeating. Volunteers will be on hand no later than noon.
Got kids in the parade? If so, this year you won’t need to navigate the staging area chaos to drop them off. The committee has arranged a shuttle service from the Orleans Plaza parking lot on New Orleans Road to the staging area. So if you’re dropping off kids, you can avoid Pope Avenue altogether.
Next question: Where’s the best place to watch? It’s almost a silly question since nearly three quarters of the island’s entire population attends every year. So unless you’re a newcomer, you already know that just about every spectator location on the route gives you an unobstructed close-up view. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, but the experience varies depending on your vantage point.
For example, if you enjoy more hustle and bustle and high energy—sweet chaos if you will—the Pope Avenue median from Waterside Drive south and the roadside directly across on the west side of Pope are good choices.
That’s largely due to proximity to the nearby parties going on at Aunt Chilada’s and Wild Wing Café. By the way, if you’re inclined to partake in those festivities, make sure you keep your adult beverages within the confines of the serving establishment’s property, because it’s not allowed on the parade route.
Things settle down a little bit on both the median opposite Truffle’s Café and Executive Park Road, and on the roadside in front of St. Luke’s, Holy Family, and St. Andrew’s Churches. You’ll find the more family-oriented crowd here, and the median is a good location for those who need to make a quick getaway after the parade.
The reviewing stand is situated at the Pope Avenue/Office Park Road intersection. Of course this is a good place to be, because you can hear the MCs announcing the floats and marchers as they approach. By the way, MCs will also be near the staging area egress, so keep that in mind if you enjoy the commentary. After passing the reviewing stand, the parade heads into the Office Park Road home stretch. Office Park Road offers some excellent viewing, especially in front of Carolina Office Park (Carolina, Sapelo, and Kiawah Buildings) where there is lots of space to spread out. Some folks even break out the grills and have “tailgate” parties.
A note about Office Park Road: The segment between Park Plaza and the Courtyard Building gets pretty hectic with people picking others up, breaking down floats, loading up, etc. We highly recommend that you avoid that area as much as possible if you’re not participating in the parade.
I can’t direct you to “official parade parking” because no such thing exists. This is Hilton Head Island, after all, and parking and traffic are always a challenge for big events like this. I can offer suggestions, though, the first one being, leave your car at home! Of course that’s not possible for everybody, but if you live near enough, e.g., North and South Forest Beach Drives, Cordillo Parkway, or Shipyard, you might consider walking or riding your bike to the parade. Also, invite friends or family who live farther away to park at your place if you have room.
For those who need parking, there are a few parking lots on New Orleans Road that shouldn’t be too busy on a Sunday such as Orleans Plaza and Orleans Centre. From there, it’s only a short walk to Pope Avenue. The Crossroads shopping center on Palmetto Bay Road is another option. The walk is a bit longer, but since the property is largely vacant, there’s a good chance you’ll find a spot.
Now for the ground rules
If you’re in the parade, you’ve been provided with the rules for parade entries and you can view them at HiltonHeadIreland.org (click the “Entries” tab), so I won’t take up any space with that here. For the rest of you, here are a few things to keep in mind on Parade Day.
First, please stay behind the yellow ropes. More important, make sure your kids do. There are a lot of motor vehicles in the parade, some of them very large, and we want everybody to be as safe as possible. Many of our marching groups like to hand out candy, beads, or other goodies to the audience, making it very tempting for little ones to wiggle under the rope into the street, so please keep an eye on them.
Also, notice that I said marching groups like to “hand out” candy, beads, or other goodies. They are not permitted to throw anything into the audience, and we ask that audience members refrain from lobbing anything to the marchers. You can throw kisses if you want, but please, no projectiles.
Mind you, it’s not just us. It’s also our friends from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, members of which will be present on parade day, helping us keep things in order. So please be on your best behavior…not that you wouldn’t. I just feel obliged to mention it, especially with regard to alcoholic beverages. Yes, I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but we need to be responsible. There are plenty of places near the parade route to grab a cold one, so go ahead and enjoy yourself, but you must consume it on the premises.
Well that’s it. That’s all you really need to know unless you want to join the parade or volunteer. In that case, see the info at the end. Otherwise have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day, enjoy the Parade, be careful and wear something green.
What: The 31st Annual Hilton Head Island St. Patrick’s Day Parade Presented by iSelectMD
When: 3 p.m., Sunday, March 16
Where: Pope Avenue, Hilton Head Island
To join the parade: Visit HiltonHeadIreland.org; click “Entries” tab; click “Enter the Parade Now” button; complete and submit the online form.
To volunteer: Contact Bill Harper at (843) 616-3604 or Bill@HiltonHeadIreland.org.