It's the kind of parade that anyone can join at the last minute. Neighborhood children will decorate their bikes and ride. Boat owners will tow their vessels along the route. And any kind of car is welcome to pull up for the procession. But don't expect the parade route to wind along neighborhood streets. This one will meander around a shopping center.

The annual Fourth of July parade in Lorton has the spirit and feel of a small-town celebration, just 30 minutes from the District's extravaganza. But don't show up too late, otherwise you might miss it altogether. The entire march will last no more than 20 minutes.

Once everyone gathers behind the Post Office at 1 p.m., the estimated 20 groups of marchers will weave past the video store, past the Domino's Pizza and around the Food Lion until they complete a full loop around the Gunston Plaza Shopping Center.

The residents of a nearby assisted living home always come out to watch them go by. And marchers routinely stop to chat with the couple hundred neighbors that come out to cheer them on.

"We're not anything big and fancy," said Irma Clifton, one of the parade organizers. "But we love it."

As in past years, organizers expect the local veterans organizations to be there, along with the area's different scout troops. But it's also a chance for neighbors to break out their antique tractors or antique cars and show them off. Even the antique part is optional.

"There's one man with a Mustang and it's only 10 to 12 years old," Clifton said. "But he puts the top down and comes and rides in the parade. Anyone is welcome."

Clifton said the parade started in 1990 after a widely known resident activist, Bob Lundy, was injured in a car accident. Wanting to do something for him, Clifton said, a few of his friends decided to have a parade in his honor. The group then decided, Clifton said, to have it on the Fourth of July. Because Lundy recently died from a heart attack, this year's parade also will honor him.

Clifton and others say that the parade has become important to the community. With the Lorton Correctional Complex nearby, some area communities didn't even want to be associated with the Lorton mailing address. But now that the prison will be closed down over the next couple of years, Lorton community leaders say the parade is one way of rehabilitating the area's image.

And for a fragmented area that doesn't have many places for the community to gather, the parade has become an event at which people from around Lorton can come together.

"It's to show pride in Lorton," said Tim Rizer, president of the Federation of Lorton Communities, the organization of homeowner associations that largely organized the parade. He is going to push to have the parade moved next year out of its shopping center route and to a town center in a new development. "I think it's critical to have it," he said. "It's critical for community pride."

Rizer said he has been trying to get neighborhoods around Lorton to come out and do almost anything they want, as long as they participate in the day's events. He plans to borrow a neighbor's Model A antique car and drive it in the parade.

The celebration's small-town feel will continue after the march. In the shopping center parking lot, there will be an inflatable padded "moon bounce" area that children can play on. The area Domino's will donate pizza that a local nonprofit will sell to raise money for those with low incomes.

Local groups such as the area historical society will set up tables to display their wares. And consistent with the informal nature of the parade, organizers said they aren't sure if they'll have music.

Last year a Dixieland style band played (along with a local teenage rock band) after a resident donated the money for it. This year, they aren't sure if the man will make the same donation, Clifton said.

"We're telling everyone that if they have a tuba or a French horn, come down, walk around and play."

CAPTION: Hunter Fedorshik, 3, sits in a firetruck to be used in the annual Lorton Fourth of July parade around Gunston Plaza Shopping Center.