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Here's How These Folks Built A Rose Parade Float The Old School Way

In a sea of corporate floats, there's still a few community-powered ones. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)
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Underneath a 210 freeway overpass, 65 volunteers climbed scaffolding and clamored around a parking lot as they painted and glued decorations onto a giant frog.

The La Cañada Flintridge Tournament of Rose Association is entering their "Tree Frog Night" float into the Rose Parade tomorrow, and theirs is one of only six entries built by a community group instead of a corporate entity.

The group has been making Rose Parade floats since 1978, and this year's creation features three massive instrument-playing frogs in a very colorful bayou.

The float will feature three instrument-playing frogs in a bayou. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)
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Building it is a mammoth task. The head of just one of the frogs stands at least four feet high.

Organizers say it's a long, slow process from design sketches to the finished product. The team started building the smaller float elements in March, with groups meeting every Saturday.

Each element of the float is crafted and painted by hand. It can take weeks to weld, cover, and paint a float element like a tree or flower.

Then, it's covered in glue with a paintbrush by a volunteer, who pours seeds, rice, or other things to make the piece come alive.

Co-decoration chair Samantha Wickersham points at people glueing branches underneath a decorative tree frog.

"Right now we're doing dry decorations, so that's everything that's non-floral," she said.

After that, the finishing touch is a cascade of flowers that will cover most of the float.

Dry decorating is what volunteer Larry Fortune is doing this morning. He's crouched on the ground next to his husband, Larry Geisz. They're spreading glue and pouring black and grey seeds onto plaster mounds to create a riverbed. His sister-in-law, Marjorie Everson, stands next to him with a paintbrush.

"Everything that has paint on it will get covered with either seeds, flowers, bark," she said.

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Larry Geisz decorates part of the float with black and grey seeds (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

It's Everson's seventh year coming here from New Orleans to participate. Fortune and Geisz are also repeat volunteers -- they've come from Phoenix the last four years.

"It's not always glamorous -- we were washing buckets yesterday that the flowers will go in," Fortune said, laughing. "But, it's fun."

"It's just like this huge family," Everson said. "They welcome you in - we didn't know what we were doing, and they still let us come and decorate this beautiful float."

Volunteers paint glue to stick on float decorations like seeds and rice. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

Though they've toured the corporate float barns, Fortune says he prefers the welcoming and hands-on nature of this group. He points to a group of preschool kids with yellow safety vests being led into the float area to start decorating.

"I think that's what makes this different. It's community activity," he said.

A young volunteer paints a flower with glue before sprinkling it with rice. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

Local groups also get in on the fun -- like a Girl Scout Brownie group from Woodland Hills.

Troop Leader Leticia Harding says they signed up early to make sure their girls could get in on the action.

"We thought, you know, they'll get to see this and look it up forever and they'll know they'll be a part of this."

Her daughter Abby Harding said the decorating was worth the early wake-up calls. "We're going to be helping others do something," she said excitedly.

Girl Scout Brownies from troops 3506 and 2226 are some of the volunteers decorating the float. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

The whole operation is a big deal in this town. You can even buy tree-frog themed swag.

You can buy this mug and other memorabilia like a set of frog ears while you work on the float. (Emily Elena Dugdale/LAist)

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