Arlington Conservation Council volunteers pose in front of their state bird float. The birds were made from old pizza boxes and magazines. Photos courtesy of Paul Knudsen.

July 14, 2015

By Julie Thibodeaux

Every year, the Arlington Conservation Council trys to top themselves with their creative floats bearing sustainable themes for the Arlington Fourth of July parade. 

Last July, ACC rolled through downtown Arlington with real solar panels powering their sound system and a working wind turbine, touting renewable energy.

Unfortunately this year's float played its swan song before ever leaving the parking lot.

The 40-plus-year-old environmental group started out with a grand idea to complement the parade's 50th anniversary. 

In keeping with the 50 theme, longtime ACC member Marian Hiler suggested depicting all 50 state birds. It was a timely topic with recent reports showing the decline of many U.S. backyard birds.

As in year’s past, the conservationists didn’t want to buy any new materials for their creation. To set an example, they prefer using only borrowed, found and scavenged items. 

In addition, they wanted to recycle the float after the parade was over. That meant they couldn’t use paint to illustrate the birds.

“We found out the hard way, you can’t recycle used cardboard that’s been painted,” said Hiler.

So instead they used old magazine pages to fill in the feathers.

They modeled the birds on famed illustrator’s Charley Harper’s geometric bird paintings.

Using his illustrations as a guide, Hiler drew outlines of all 50 state birds plus a bald eagle with computer software. She printed them out on paper and traced the outlines on old pizza boxes. 

“Volunteers helped cut them out and looked through magazines for the right colors,” said Hiler. 

Meanwhile, Hiler’s sister, Ann Knudsen, drew a paint-by-number design on the cardboard and she and volunteers filled in the color with magazine clippings.

Hiler said she learned a lot about birds during the process. They were able to find most of the birds among Harper’s works. However, they had to wing it with obscure birds such as Hawaii’s endangered nene and Alaska’s willow ptarmigan. While many states have opted for such popular birds as cardinals and bluebirds, she was surprised to learn that two states had chickens as their official state bird – the Rhode Island Red rooster and Delaware’s Blue Hen.

With nearly 20 volunteers, they worked for a month on their flock.

But despite its wing power, the float never got off the ground. 

Out of 150 entries, the ACC float was about 20 from the end. When it came time for the group to peal off into the parade, they discovered the batteries of the truck that was supposed to pull the trailer were dead and couldn’t be revived despite attempts to resuscitate it.

“We tried to get another truck but by the time the truck did get there the parade had literally passed by us by,” said Hiler.

The birds never got their day in the sun.

“It was disappointing,” said Hiler. “I think I would have been brokenhearted if it had rained. That was my biggest fear.” 

As it is, some of the birds will be salvaged and like the phoenix may rise again for another parade. 

"That’s the fun of doing a float every year,” said Hiler. “We try to use some of things that we’ve used before."


Sign up for the weekly Green Source DFW Newsletter to stay up to date on everything green in North Texas, the latest news and events. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Main category: 

Comments (2)

  • anon
    Anonymous (not verified)

    Here is the letter I sent to ACC (and posted on my blog of 4th July coverage http://bit.ly/1G2bzYL)
    From: kim feil
    To: “ArlingtonConservationCouncil
    Sent: Tuesday, July 7, 2015 10:31 AM
    Subject: Re: [ArlingtonConservationCouncil] ACC 4th of July Parade Float
    The environmental group I was with was actually in float #150 of #158. My experience was that I found a tired group of diehard parade goers still in the crowd…I personally feel that in July its too hot to have high sun on people and pets mixing w/concrete and street…and then if you take the two-plus hour time to see the seemingly endless flickr pics on the 4th of July Assoc site. It seems the association’s photographers gave up and went home too?..they stopped snapping pics at 117-ish? and I couldn’t see who was at the end of the parade to #158. I did see…
    Joe Barton was #13, #9 Cluck, #5 Vandergriff, #89 atheists, #30 Mellowmushroom, #17 Zedler, #15 Wendy Davis, #21 Drs Alexander, #20 Diane Patrick, #51 Babes, #31 Elvis guys, #114 terrorplex makeup artists, #112 St Pauls, & GMO Free moms across America was in that ninety to 110 range. I saw #53 Mission Arlington, #50 TX Healthcare #19 Tinderholdt, #6? Dan Diepart bus, & #4? Candlelite Inn…
    There seemed to be two sets of pics in a reverse chronological order, and then was some sporadic pics of #121 PAWS animal group, #129 a firetruck with a Viridian banner (can U rent firetrucks?), #124 Art Camp…what I found most interesting is that the Groovy Goods van with belly dancers and jugglers were a hit and their float (van) looked great…but no pics…When I told my husband about the lack of photographer’s interest? in the back end of the parade’s entries in the 4th of July Association’s pictures, his thoughts were that people at the end weren’t important enough to be photographed?
    They took our money, but not our pictures? I admit I didn’t go all the way to the end to see every sporadic added photo, * but to put it in a nice way to make you feel better….you didn’t miss much by not being in the parade if you were at the end…if that makes anybody feel less pained by the unfortunate events of your position in the parade along with the technical set backs.
    I think we need two parades to shorten what the 4th parade has grown into (bigger is not necessarily better)…one for stinky floats, buses, firetrucks/vintage cars/politicions? and the other…. for those innocent people on foot or cycling or riding in an electric car that don’t need to breathe all that.
    Sincerely, Kim

    Jul 14, 2015
  • anon
    Anonymous (not verified)

    The comment above is based on erroneous information as it refers to several entries that were not in the 2015 parade (i.e. Wendy Davis, Drs. Alexander, Zedler, terrorplex makeup artists, etc). Also, the photos shot by the parade’s official photographer have not yet been posted (and he shot from 6 a.m. until noon and he shot every entry). Flickr includes photos shot by anyone at parade so really not fair to assess how 4th of July Association dealt with photos when looking at those from many people not associated with the organization.

    Jul 15, 2015