ROCKFORD — Since its debut six years ago, Stroll on State has become a Rockford tradition and the region's kickoff to the holiday season.

The event is free and open to the public from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday in the city's downtown. It attracted 82,500 visitors last year and was made possible with the help of 1,883 volunteers and the support of more than 50 business and community sponsors.

"In just six years, Stroll has become the must-go event for the Saturday after Thanksgiving," said John Groh, CEO of the Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. "For thousands of area families — including mine — Stroll is the starting line from which we propel ourselves joyfully into the holidays."

There will be food, shopping, markets, hot chocolate stands, s'mores, fire pits, horse and wagon rides, community tree lighting, fireworks and performances.

Here is what you need to know:

1. Longer parade

This is the second Stroll on State Merry and Bright parade and the route is expanding. The parade steps off at 3 p.m. at South Main and Chestnut streets, heads north to State Street, heads east across the State Street bridge and ends at Third Street. The parade will feature eight large balloons, 14 floats and three bands.

2. Honoring Mr. Fourth of July

In honor of the late Joe Marino, Stroll on State is dedicating the Sky Lights Fireworks Show to his memory. Marino, who died this week at age 92, was in charge of the Rockford Fourth of July Committee since 1963. With the help of dozens of volunteers, he turned Rockford’s annual fireworks show into one of the biggest and best shows in Illinois using only donations.

The fireworks show starts after the tree-lighting ceremony around 6:15 p.m.

3. Catch a show

• Merry & Bright Stage (West State and Wyman streets): Tuba Christmas, 4 p.m.; Heartland Community Church Band, 5:45 p.m.; Community tree lighting, 6:15 p.m.; Luxe Productions DJ, 7 p.m.

• Veterans Memorial Hall (211 N. Main St.): Starlight Theatre and Charlie Brown Christmas Gang, 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

• Jingle Bell Stage (North Main and Mulberry streets): Paul Hieser, 2 p.m.; Christian Youth Theater, 4:30 p.m.; The Kujawa Brothers, 6:30 p.m.; Matt B, 8 p.m.

• Silver Bell Stage (East State and Second streets): Marshall Elementary Minstrels, 2 p.m.; Kristina Puzin, 4:30 p.m.; Dan Holmes, 6:30 p.m.; KFACTS Lady Allstars, 8 p.m.

• Nordlof Center (118 N. Main St.): The Studio presents "Mary Poppins," 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

4. Parking

RMTD Shuttles: Your best bet for parking may be at one of three shuttle bus locations — Illinois Bank & Trust on East State Street, Heartland Community Church on Alpine Road, or the YMCA on Madison Avenue. Shuttle buses run from 1:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Parking decks open: Main Street North Parking Deck, across from the Coronado Performing Arts Center at Main Street and Park Avenue, and at the Church Street South Parking Deck adjacent to the BMO Harris Bank Center at Church and Chestnut streets are open and available during Stroll on State. Event parking is $5.

5. Plan your visit

Log on to gorockford.com/stroll-on-state to plan your visit. The website is loaded with maps, information, schedules and tips.

Jeff Kolkey: 815-987-1374; jkolkey@rrstar.com; @jeffkolkey