City clears path for return of High School Seniors Parade

A relatively new tradition for graduating seniors of South Kitsap High School is expected to continue in 2023 and beyond.

The Port Orchard City Council took action during its March 21 work study session to accept the special event application for the 2023 South Kitsap Senior Parade. In doing so, the council waived its 120-day application requirement for special events involving road closures.

“It still needs to run through its normal process, get approved by all the outside agencies, and then it will require your action a second time to approve the actual road closure once the other outside agencies have approved the traffic control plan,” Mayor Rob Putaansuu said to the council.

Councilman John Clauson at one point offered to pay the $50 application fee himself, as the application had been received after the closing of the current business day. Such talk led to the passing of the hat in order to cover the fee out of the council members’ and the mayor’s own pockets.

The council’s action helped keep the dream alive for the parade, which graduating South Kitsap students have participated in annually since the emergence of the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Organized by Eric Worden, Jeff Gatlin and Kim Shaw, the parade was put together as a way to showcase Port Orchard’s newest graduates while maintaining social distancing in its first two years. Last year’s parade, the third of its kind, saw even bigger crowds as the city slowly moved back to a sense of normalcy.

“For the graduating seniors, they enjoy this more than graduation,” Worden said. “It’s what they look forward to. If you just look at the photos of each year, the excitement from those kids is just out of control; it’s extremely fun.”

Worden had previously announced March 10 the parade would not be organized by himself, Gatlin and Shaw after the size of the event began drawing public transportation concerns from the city, considering the event had typically taken place on downtown Bay Street, which is a state highway. Additional concerns regarding participant safety were also brought to light, concerns Worden agreed were legitimate.

“Mayor Putaansuu and the City of Port Orchard leadership believe that parades, special events and festivals are vitally important to the fabric of our community,” the city said in a March 20 statement. “They bring us together in celebration and help us create and sustain the social bonds that make communities like Port Orchard so special. But these events must be conducted in a safe manner to be beneficial to the community as a whole.”

This meant the event would be subject to the same policies as any organized street parade would need to follow, including filing a special event application and obtaining a certified traffic control plan. Worden said the costs to secure the proper permits, insurance and everything else needed would amount somewhere between $10k and $15k on the low end.

“That’s just not attainable for us,” he said. “We’re just a few citizens that organize some events, and that wasn’t doable.”

Since Worden announced the news, several individuals have begun advocating for the event’s return. He reported to Kitsap Daily News they had received a donated plan for traffic control. Whisky Gulch CoffeePub also announced that they would be assisting in the application process and funding.

With the council’s action to move forward now, Worden said it was a big win for the seniors of SK High School and hinted at this being the real beginning to a long-lasting tradition within the city.

“We’re grateful that they worked with us on the short notice,” he said. “Moving forward, the years to come, we know what to expect, and we look forward to working with the city.”