St. Patrick's Day parade organizers in Montauk have come up with their own solution for curbing underage drinking at the state's second biggest parade marking the holiday -- they're springing forward and celebrating three hours earlier.
The Montauk Friends of Erin will start the festivities at next year's parade at 10 a.m., a move organizers say is designed to deter the attendance of some who come by Long Island Rail Road, including LIRR's St. Patrick's Day special, and are later arrested for alcohol-related offenses.
"This is absolutely because of the train problems," said Joseph Bloecker, the Montauk group's president. "We hope to discourage kids from coming out here. We hope they won't get up that early; we have zero tolerance for alcohol for minors."
The parade is held in March, and, according to organizers, up to 40,000 people attend in good weather. The start-time change means that, for the first time in a half-century, the Montauk Chamber of Commerce will be selling its traditional clam chowder on the streets at 9 a.m. And for the Long Island Rail Road, it means that the trains that can bring up to 5,000 people to the event will arrive too late for them to see it.
The railroad bans alcohol on its trains to Montauk and checks passengers at stations east of Babylon to ensure they are not carrying beer or liquor before they board. But once the parade ends, passengers have to spend several hours in Montauk before they can catch westbound trains, and problems with teens and young adults have been a regular occurrence for the past several years.
About two dozen people are arrested each year in Montauk for being drunk in public on parade day, town officials say.
Many of the spectators come out to the same spot each year, and thousands set up campers or tents the night before.
Next year's parade will be Sunday, March 25. St. Patrick's Day is Saturday, March 17, but there are so many requests for bagpipe bands and marching units that many parades are held the week before or after.
LIRR officials said their March train schedule has not yet been prepared.
This year, the LIRR added a train to Montauk for parade-goers that left Jamaica at 8:56 a.m. and arrived at Montauk at 11:32 p.m. The railroad also beefed up the presence of police from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and banned alcohol at platforms on the Montauk branch east of Babylon.
East Hampton Town Police Chief Edward V. Ecker Jr. said that the Suffolk County sheriff and town and village police across the East End help deal with the crowds at the Montauk parade and that he welcomes any change that will improve safety during the day.
Montauk's St. Patrick's Day parade
THE ROUTE: Edgemere Road, west on Main Street, ending by the IGA supermarket.
THE ORGANIZERS: The Montauk Friends of Erin, founded in 1962, started with 12 members who sought to hold a St. Patrick's Day parade to mark an end to the dreary Montauk winter.
THE CLAM CHOWDER: Several of Montauk's restaurants cook up pots of clam chowder, which the Chamber of Commerce sells in souvenir mugs.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Most of the parade fundraising activities cover the cost of bringing in marching units and other direct expenses. But over the years the Montauk Friends of Erin have also provided scholarships to local students and given money to local groups, from the Montauk Fire Department and the Montauk Playhouse to The Retreat -- a shelter for abused women -- and Soldier Ride, East End Hospice and Montauk's St. Therese of Lisieux Roman Catholic Church.
Source: Montauk Friends of Erin