The public spoke and city officials listened. This year’s Dec. 7 Christmas Parade route will no longer encircle Lake Morton, although it will skirt its northern edge.

“After much consideration during our most recent event meeting, the group decided to not include Lake Morton Drive in the 2023 parade route,” said Bob Donahay, director of Parks, Recreation & Cultural Arts.  “This decision is based on public safety and the expense it would take to properly manage the lakeshore, but possible impacts to the swan population at Lake Morton was another huge factor.”

The parade route was modified recently because a part of Orange Street is closed for three months so underground utilities can be connected to a new apartment complex being constructed across from Barnett Family Park. 

Initially parade organizers had included most of Lake Morton Drive as part of the route.  Lakeland residents Sydney Milton and Sally Bendele created a petition on, asking city officials to detour the parade away from Lake Morton and its iconic swans. It got more than 600 signatures in the last month.

A swan glides along Lake Morton. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow
A swan glides along Lake Morton. | Kimberly C. Moore, LkldNow

“Lake Morton is home to a diverse range of wildlife species, including graceful swans and other waterfowl. These animals have become an integral part of our community’s identity and deserve our utmost respect and protection. However, the current parade route poses potential risks to their safety and well-being,” their petition reads.

They cited potential disturbances to nesting swans, noise pollution and trash accumulation — posing potential hazards if ingested by wildlife or polluting their natural habitat.

“By rerouting the Lakeland Christmas parade away from Lake Morton’s immediate vicinity while still maintaining its festive spirit within our beloved city center streets … we can ensure a safer environment for both residents and wildlife alike.”

On Tuesday, Bendele posted her accomplishment on Facebook: “GUYS!!! we got a new route for the christmas parade!!!! we did it!!!!”

The new route

For a larger version of the map, click here: 2023 Christmas Parade – Modified Route

Donahay said the city will now follow the same route used in 2006, when the parade was shortened because of downtown construction. The new parade distance of 1.8 miles is a little bit shorter than the originally planned 2.5 miles. The usual parade route is 2.25 miles.

Parade participants will leave the RP Funding Center, travel east on Lemon Street towards downtown, turn left on Tennessee Avenue, then right on Main Street.  At Massachusetts Avenue, the parade will turn right, heading south to Lake Morton Drive.  The parade will turn right at the lake, travel about two blocks to Walnut Street, then head up Tennessee Avenue.  At Orange Street, the parade will turn left and continue back to the RP Funding Center, where the parade will conclude.

The judges’ review stand will be on Main Street by the Terrace Hotel, as it has been in recent years.

Roads that are impacted by the parade route will close at 5 p.m. except for the portion of Lime Street between Florida Avenue and Lake Beulah Drive that will close at 3 p.m.

City officials ask that parade-goers not place chairs, blankets or other items along the route until the day of the parade or they will be removed.

Swans and parade are both cherished Lakeland traditions

Lakeland’s signature swans are a legacy from the early days of the reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II. After an earlier swan population dwindled, Lakeland native Staff Sgt. Robert Pickhardt, who was serving in England, and his wife heard about the problem and wrote to the then-young queen to request a pair of her swans.

One of the queen’s lesser-known titles is Seigneur of Swans, as the royal family is owner of all British swans since the Middle Ages, Lakeland’s website states. The queen agreed to the Pickhardts’ request, but Lakeland needed to cover the costs of Her Majesty’s Swan Keeper wrangling and crating the birds, along with licensing and transporting them via air cargo, all of which totaled about $300.

Children feeding the swans and their fowl cousins is a rite of passage in Lakeland.

“The Lakeland Christmas Parade is a time-honored tradition, enjoyed by the community for generations,” Lakeland Director of Communications Kevin Cook said in a press release. 

The parade is co-hosted by The Junior League of Greater Lakeland and the City of Lakeland. The theme for this year’s parade is “Christmas in Candyland,” with each float incorporating the theme into their design.

Recognized as one of Lakeland’s largest annual events, the Lakeland Christmas Parade draws an estimated 50,000 people annually. It will start with fireworks over Lake Mirror at 7 p.m.  This year’s parade already has more than 120 entries, including floats, marching bands, and decorated trailers.  The parade will end with everyone’s favorite, Mr. and Mrs. Claus atop their sleigh. 

The Dec. 1, 2022 parade ended, as always, with the appearance of Santa and Mrs. Claus. | Michael Wilson, LkldNow

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Kimberly C. Moore, who grew up in Lakeland, has been a print, broadcast and multimedia journalist for more than 30 years. Before coming to LkldNow in the spring of 2022, she was a reporter for four years with The Ledger, first covering Lakeland City Hall and then Polk County schools. She is the author of “Star Crossed: The Story of Astronaut Lisa Nowak," published by University Press of Florida. Reach her at or 863-272-9250.

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