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Athens Mardi Gras parade spotlights the big-hearted quirky town

ATHENS — Athens is the kind of community that embraces being quirky and helping others.

That’s why shopping buggies decorated as Mardi Gras floats is a popular way to join in on the Mobile-born celebration synonymous with beads, Moon Pies, masks and parades.

Decorate your buggy. (Athens Arts League contributed)

Athens Arts League will host its annual Mardi Gras Parade with a purpose and a celebration Feb. 13 in downtown Athens.

Athens Arts League Board member and retired Athens State art professor Gail Bergeron organized the first parade in 2013 with her Athens State University art students known as the Art Heads.

Bergeron loved the community’s interest, and partnered her students with Athens Arts League for future parades. Instead of ornate floats, organizers opted to borrow buggies from Lowe’s and encourage krewes to decorate them and collect canned goods for the LCCI Food Bank. A unique spin on celebrating Mardi Gras was adopted.

“We may be the smallest Mardi Gras Parade in the state, but we’ve got the biggest heart,” Athens Arts League Board President Holly Hollman said.

The LCCI Food Bank is a benefactor. (Athens Arts League contributed)

Parade participants and spectators are encouraged to donate canned goods at High Cotton Art at 103 W. Washington Street now through parade night. Each year, the celebration collects hundreds of canned goods for the LCCI Food Bank.

“I love Gail’s enthusiasm and her big heart,” Mayor Ronnie Marks said. “Gail and her volunteers found a way to have fun and to make a difference at the same time.”

Elaborate buggy decorations over the years have included a pig, a shrimp boil pot and a chariot of fire. 

Gail Bergeron is “lit.” (Athens Arts League contributed)

“This year’s theme is ‘Let There Be Light,’ which opens up a bounty of possibilities for decorators,” Bergeron said.

Krewes (local organizations, friends, families) who want to reserve a buggy and get information about dimensions and requirements can call High Cotton Arts at 256-262-9022. Cost is $30. Lowe’s and Hometown are providing the buggies. 

To celebrate with the “Let There Be Light theme,” Athens Fire and Rescue, Athens Electric Department, Athens Police Department and Limestone County Sheriff’s Department will have vehicles on display with lights flashing. The Limestone County Courthouse will illuminate the night with Mardi Gras-colored lights.

There will be live music starting at 4:45 p.m. on Marion Street at the Courthouse steps. Tubano Thunder, a drum circle collaboration between Athens Arts League and the Boys and Girls Club, will perform followed by the Athens State University Community Choir.

Mask-making for the kids. (Athens Arts League contributed)

High Cotton Arts will offer free mask-making for children at 5 p.m. Spectators can also stop by High Cotton Arts for free Publix bags to collect beads during the parade.

The Athens Lions Club Train will provide rides to children around The Square prior to the parade and will lead the parade.

The parade lineup and float judging starts at 6 p.m. in front of High Cotton Arts. The parade will start at 6:30. The route will be west on Washington Street, north on Marion Street, west on Market Street, south on Jefferson Street and east on Washington Street. 

In addition to the buggy floats, the second line will include Bryan Pigg and the Elkmont High School Marching Band and Davin Kyle and the West Limestone High School Marching Band.

Reserving and Decorating a Buggy

  • To reserve a buggy, call 256-262-9022 or register at www.athensartsleague.com/new-page
  • Buggies will be decorated at High Cotton Arts.
  • Decoration times are noon to 4 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; 1-4 p.m. Sunday; and 1-4 p.m. Monday.

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