Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

At a time when many towns are scaling back their annual traditions, Mother Lode residents can still look forward to a big and beautiful Roundup Parade.

The 56th annual parade, held Saturday, will have about 150 entries from local organizations, including horseback groups and service clubs, said parade Chairman Jim Opie. About 30 entries are floats of various sizes.

The procession will begin at 10 a.m. at Washington Street and Restano Way, exit on Snell Street, and turn onto School Street before dispersing.

The parade typically lasts two and a half hours and draws thousands of spectators - both locals and tourists - who line the route.

The parade dates to the 1920s, when it was known as the "Days of Gold Parade." It took on its current name in 1947, according to the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau.

In the parade's heyday in the 1970s and 80s, it lasted about five hours and had 300 entries, Opie said.

It's been affected by the same economic forces that caused some other towns to drop their traditions altogether.

Some groups put on parades and other events to fund their operations throughout the year, but were deterred by mounting regulations and insurance costs, Opie said.

Steven Schmader, president of a trade group called the International Festival and Events Association, said the sluggish economy has impacted large events like air shows and even many small-town festivals.

But he noted that parades are important to a town's identity.

"They're things that bind all the pieces and parts of the community together," Schmader said. "It becomes what I call a calling card. People look at your community and say, 'What do you celebrate?' That's irreplaceable."

It's a point that the Mother Lode seems to understand. Nobody intends to let the Roundup Parade go the way of the steam engine.

"This parade is one of the older parades in the state, and it's still going," Opie said. "I feel very strongly that this tradition needs to continue on as long as it possibly can."

The volunteer Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse organizes the parade in partnership with local businesses.

It is not especially profitable for the Sheriff's Posse, but it's an "absolutely community-driven event," said Opie, who has been parade chairman for the past several years.

"You have a group of 50 people in the Sheriff's Posse that work approximately two months to put this weekend together," he said. "There's a lot of work that goes into this."

As usual, open containers of alcohol are permitted along the parade route from 6 a.m. to noon on parade day.

In attendance will be State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, and Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, R-O'Neals.

For the first time, people attending the parade will not be able to park on side streets along the parade route. People who park on side streets or along the parade route after 5 a.m. on parade day will have their vehicles towed.

The new restriction covers streets between the Red Church and Restano Way that connect with Washington Street.

Parking restrictions will lift 10 to 15 minutes after the parade finishes about 12:30 p.m.

The Mother Lode Roundup Rodeo will follow at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. Tickets are $15 presale and $18 at the door. Other weekend events include a Saturday night dance and Sunday morning Mother's Day breakfast, both at the fairgrounds.