• Sat. May 14th, 2022

How’s Mule day going? Hi support staff

ByJulie J. Helfer

Mar 29, 2022

On Saturday April 2, our most beloved tradition, the Mule Day Parade, returns after two years. Mule Day has many components, but the activity that attracts thousands of people is the parade. Crowds gather early with their lawn chairs, blankets, umbrellas and sunscreen depending on the weather forecast. Since Mule Day began as Herders Day in the 1830s, thousands and thousands of people have seen horses, goats, llamas, chariots, carriages and, of course, mules.

The reason these thousands of people were able to enjoy Mule Day safely can be attributed to the wonderful people who work hard all year round to make the days safe and enjoyable. Imagine the number of hours of work required to organize and prepare the festivities which now last several days.

The Mule Day office located in Maury County Park is the main source of information about Mule Day. Each year, a guide to the activities of the days is published so that those who come can find their way around. The Bridle and Saddle Club in 1974 had a vision to resurrect Mule Day. Their idea has become an annual event attracting many people from other states and even foreign countries.

What was once a first Monday in April event has become a week-long celebration of camping, wagons, blue grass music, mule shows, dancing and an arts and crafts market .

The good people who initiate Mule Day carry a great responsibility.

Beginning at least a year in advance, the committee must plan each event for that week.

This requires planning, making room for vendors, issuing parade participant numbers, cooperating with our local support groups and praying for good weather.

This year there are around 60 vendors selling mule-related items, crafts and especially food. The Bridle and Saddle Club has four regular employees in the Mule Day office. They work tirelessly to answer the phone and sell Mule Day products. The office is open from January to Mule Day.

This year, the campgrounds are full with 950 sites filled. The parade will have 350 entries.

The office staff should coordinate the mule raffle and other park activities and, most importantly, be able to answer any questions, no matter how ridiculous. The preparation hours of the Bridle and Saddle Club are matched and even exceeded by the time required to run the events.

Because there are so many people involved, every utility in our city and county is working together and joining forces to make sure everyone is safe and agencies are prepared for any issues that may arise.

Columbia Police Department officers always protect and serve.

Their leadership attends planning meetings and they agree to take on additional duties for Mule Day. There will be approximately 80 officers on duty with one officer stationed at each intersection. All staff will work 12 hour shifts. Officers said their favorite part was being able to interact with the public in a positive way.

Although sometimes citizens are not happy that their street is closed, officers respond kindly and note that there are other streets that are not closed.

Officers may also be called upon to answer unusual questions as someone will no doubt want to know the mules’ parentage.

Again, the hours of planning are supplemented by the hours the force spends on the streets and in the park. Traditionally, Columbia’s Chief of Police leads the parade with his blaring sirens, waving to the crowd and perhaps with an important person at his side.

The Maury County Sheriff’s Department has a role similar to that of the Columbia Police Department. This department will also have a car leading the parade. The sheriff may drive, or he has sometimes ridden a horse.

The sheriff can also have a tank, but wherever he appears he continues to be on duty. Its staff will have assigned locations at Maury County Park around the clock. The force includes the regular deputies, the eighteen reserve officers, the first deputy and the sheriff. Reserve officers are volunteers.

Regular officers’ salaries are included in the sheriff’s budget, but the Bridle and Saddle Club will also pay a portion of salaries.

The most difficult for this group, as for the municipal police, is to block the streets before the parade. The second most difficult task is supervising so many people within the boundaries of Maury County Park. This department closely monitors weather conditions and has assisted customers during several weather crises. Again, how could we calculate the hours and days that this service is responsible for to ensure everyone’s safety.

The City of Columbia Fire Department will have first responders strategically located throughout the city. All employees will be on duty and all stations will be fully staffed. Planning hours with the police, public works, EMS and the Mule Day Committee begin months in advance. The most difficult part requires a lot of coordination between these agencies.

Department employees will be on ATVs covering the city to be aware of any issues and to enjoy seeing people. There will be 150 firefighters on duty just for the parade. They will also work with Maury Regional Hospital and EMS.

All specially trained employees such as those who have completed HASMAT training are available just in case. Hours and hours of service are given by our Columbia Fire Department.

The City of Columbia Public Works Department has 70 employees. They are responsible for keeping the city’s embankments mowed. They are also erecting 60 traffic signs to ease traffic flow and stationing 240 barriers along the parade route to help with crowd control and forty-five garbage cans to help keep Columbia clean. Their working day will be 10 to 12 hours, and they are paid overtime. As the week ends on Sunday, they have to work five hours.

The hardest part for public works is to open the streets after the parade to allow traffic to flow again. Another big job is following the parade and cleaning the streets. The department uses blowers to push trash down the street, and there are two large sweepers to pick up debris.

A newspaper article from the 1930s notes that it took a whole week to clear the streets! Today the streets will be cleaned immediately.

The Maury Regional Medical Center EMS is very active in planning Mule Day. Their preparation for Mule Day is like everyday preparation. In the parade there will be 20 members of their staff. This department is also equipped for any emergency that may arise. During the parade, paramedics on bicycles, ATVs and on foot will circulate through the crowd. The mission of this department is to provide clinical excellence, compassionate care and to be available anytime, anywhere. The goal of Mule Day is to have no ambulances in the parade, but outside the parade they are needed.

Two other support groups that should be recognized for their contributions are the Office of Emergency Management and the Maury County Fire Department. The OEM prepares the fleet security plan. The agency has a command center to ensure communication between the entities attending the park. There are four regular employees who work with TEMA, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Maury County Veterinarians, and the South Central Regional Health Department. The goal of EMS is to have all agencies work together to keep everyone safe. EMS also stays in touch with the weather bureau since Middle Tennessee is notorious for its rapid weather changes.

The Maury County Fire Department provides fire and rescue services throughout our county’s 600 square miles. During Mule Day, all 12 county stations will be ready with fire and rescue services. The fire department has 501c3 status and operates with community support. On Mule Day, members of this department will be on duty at the park 24 hours a day starting Monday.

Staff will work with Maury Regional Hospital and OEM. Twenty employees will work during this period. The department has capable administrators who guide a volunteer staff of 132 people. This group has a unique job at the park. They are responsible for verifying certification that mules, donkeys and horses have received a negative Coggins test to prevent the spread of a viral disease in equines that has no vaccine or cure. What an important contribution.

Just as the number of spectators is estimated to be in the tens of thousands each year, the number of hours our volunteers and officials serve must also number in the tens of thousands.

NOTE: The author would like to thank everyone who generously answered questions and contributed to this article.

Sheila G. Hickman is a retired educator who supports all good things in Maury County.