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A tradition like no other

Cora Hall • Aug 2, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Marking spots for the Coast Guard Festival fireworks show or parade all day Thursday is “what you do in Grand Haven,” according to Jay Wagoner.

Wagoner and his wife, Kara, staked out their spot along Franklin Avenue across from the County Courthouse, along with their 2-year-old daughter, Lucie, and their dog, at 9 a.m. Thursday. The parade-viewing location has been in Kara’s family since she was a kid, and Jay said he “married into the spot.”

“(It’s) tradition, and we started doing this ... 10 years before we even had a kid,” he said. “(Kara’s) dad would come out and stake out a spot when she was a kid. We’ve got the best spot in the house for the parade by doing this.”

To pass the time, Jay works and Kara reads. They also entertain family and friends who stop by to visit. If they get hungry, they have food delivered to their spot.

“You see the same people, every year the same people get the same spots, so we chat with the same people every year,” Kara said. “It’s just a nice, relaxing day.”

The public is allowed to start marking spots at 12:01 a.m. Friday. If they mark off a spot along the public right of way prior to that, they must remain in the marked area until 12:01 a.m. Friday.

Not everyone plays by the rules, though, and city trucks have been seen patrolling through town and ripping up tape on unattended spots.

“Some people will come and they’ll just put out tape and then they’ll leave, and that’s not how that game’s played. You’ve gotta make it tradition,” Jay said Thursday. “The city just came through and tore up some spots that people just dumped their stuff and left, so you gotta play by the rules. Some people think it’s not fair that we stake out spots, but it’s tradition and that’s what you do in Grand Haven.”

For other families, the spot serves as a home base for kids and friends so everyone knows where to meet up.

Tom Engelsman has marked the same spot to watch the Coast Guard Festival fireworks show each of the past 15 years. He was there at 8 a.m. Thursday, in the grass just north of the Lynne Sherwood Waterfront Stadium. He says his kids love the spot for the fireworks show.

“We like it here just because ... my kids always say you can feel, not just see, the fireworks,” Engelsman said. “But you can feel them when you’re down here, and we love this because this becomes our base for where we are for the next three days. So everyone knows, here’s where you go, come hang out. This is our spot.”

The spot becomes a place to hang out for more than 60 people, according to Engelsman. The kids can go and enjoy the downtown activities and the adults have a place to spend time together.

“It’s a family tradition,” he said. “We have this spot here and we usually have – between family, friends and neighbors – there’s probably 65 of us that come down here each year.”

The grass along South Harbor Drive was quickly filling up Thursday afternoon. Greg Watters started his shift at 10:30 a.m. on the hill across from the Chamber of Commerce building. His sister had marked it at 6:30 a.m. to ensure that the spot their family had held for more than three decades was secured.

“It’s a family tradition, we’ve been doing it for 33 years,” Watters said. “We used to bring our kids down here and now they’re grown up. They come into town and they know right where to find us because it’s the same spot we’ve done year after year after year.”

Not only do his kids and grandkids come to the spot, but their friends tag along, as well, Watters said.

“Quite often, their friends that they went through high school with or school with know that this is our spot, and they’re in town, they’ll come and visit us,” he added. “I’ve got two children that live in Chicago and they can’t always make it every year, but their friends show up. We just enjoy it so much.”

Watters enjoys the view for the fireworks and watching the people to pass the time. Often tourists from out of town will stop and ask what’s going on.

“It’s so funny, too, because we’ll have people walk past here and they’ll stop and look at us and they’ll turn around and come back,” he said. “They’re from out of town, and they’ll say, ‘Is there something going on today?’ And we’ll say, ‘No.’ ‘So, why are you sitting here?’ ‘Waitin’ for the fireworks.’ ‘Oh, when are the fireworks?’ ‘Saturday night.’ ‘And you’re sitting here now for fireworks on Saturday night?’ And I say, ‘Yeah.’ And they just kind of shake their heads and walk away.”

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