Fourth at the Fort recovers costs, generates warm feelings

Vancouver City Council gets report: A good time was had by almost all

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The city’s biggest annual show will go on, Fort Vancouver National Trust President Elson Strahan said Monday.

More than 20,000 adults bought tickets to attend the revamped and reinstated Independence Day at Fort Vancouver. Children 12 and younger were free, but organizers estimate that they numbered at least 15,000, Strahan told the Vancouver City Council.

The ticket sales, combined with corporate sponsorships, helped the nonprofit trust, which organizes and pays for the July 4 event, recover its costs.

“The event is sustainable as long as we can charge admission as well as secure new and renewed sponsorships,” Strahan said. “Independence Day at Fort Vancouver will remain a tradition as it was presented this year.”

Tickets were $5 in advance online or through community groups and $7 at the door. Prime viewing-area tickets, which also included a catered picnic, were $50 for adults, $25 for kids 6 and up. More than 200 people were in that area, but a number were part of sponsorship packages, Strahan said.

About 6,000 bought tickets online before the event, but the “majority of folks purchased on the day of the event,” Strahan said, attributing the smaller advance sales to the fact the event was new, and that some people probably made the decision to attend that day.

Counts don’t compare

The 35,000 to 40,000 total attendees this year is smaller than the long-held crowd figures of 50,000 to 60,000 in previous years, Strahan noted. But he also said that there was no way in the past to actually quantify that number, as ticket sales this year provided the official count.

The changed event — scaled down from a massive feat of pyrotechnics fired from a barge in the Columbia River and a big main-stage act — was more family-friendly this year, said Kim Hash, director of programs for the Fort Vancouver National Trust.

New events, including historical readings by local luminaries and tours of the Vancouver Barracks, proved so popular that they’ll be expanded next year. Families with children also stayed for the headline concert by country band Cloverdayle, unlike in previous years when such performances included a “mosh pit”-like experience, she said.

“It was a calmer crowd, the crowd we were hoping to attract,” she said.

The trust sent a survey to those who bought tickets online, and just over 400 people responded, Strahan said. Of those, 85 percent said they would return again, 14 percent said they were unsure and just 1 percent said they wouldn’t come back. Ninety-seven percent found buying their tickets online to be easy. And of the 18 vendors on site, 75 percent were sold out by 9:45 p.m.

Fireworks numbers

Vancouver public safety officials also gave their official report to the council, saying that overall, things were much calmer at the Fort event and around the city.

Spring-like weather conditions kept estimated damages to just $2,800 within city limits between July 4 and 7, Acting Fire Marshal Heidi Scarpelli said.

“The rain was our friend this year,” she said.

No one was seriously injured or arrested at the official Fort Vancouver celebration, Vancouver Police Lt. Harry Russell said.

Lost children were reunited with their parents within two to 10 minutes, with the help of Neighbors On Watch volunteers, he said.

“In the 23 years I’ve been involved … this particular event was probably the least problematic,” Russell said.

Around town, 23 arrests were made July 4, compared with 24 arrests last year, said Vancouver Police Cmdr. George Delgado.

Fire District 5 and the Vancouver Fire Department responded to two injuries related to legal fireworks, while 274 people called with complaints about firework usage between June 28 and July 5.

As for the changed firework sale and use dates within the city, Scarpelli noted that there was some confusion, especially because Clark County and other cities have different rules.

This year, Vancouver allowed sales to begin June 28, but allowed use only from July 1 through July 4.

People buying fireworks in the county, for example, may be told they can use them, but get in trouble when they take them somewhere in the city to fire them off, she noted.

The council agreed to start a fireworks summit with the county and other local cities to possibly create uniform fireworks laws.

“We do need to make this a lot more simple,” Councilor Jeanne Harris said.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com.