A neighborly 4th of July

Event organizers work to ease festivities’ impact on Hudson’s Bay residents

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

HUDSON’S BAY — Once a year, their neighborhood is the site of Vancouver’s biggest celebration.

And party time is fast approaching. The Hudson’s Bay neighborhood, which includes some of the Pacific Northwest’s most historic real estate, will provide the setting once again for Vancouver’s annual Fourth of July festivities.

TO VOLUNTEER

People interested in volunteering for Vancouver’s Fourth of July celebration can download the application here or call 360-992-1808.

This year’s event, billed as Independence Day at Fort Vancouver presented by Bank of America, will offer more than 10 hours of events and activities Monday. The celebration annually draws thousands of people to the Fort Vancouver National Site.

It can be a mixed blessing, say Hudson’s Bay residents. They don’t have to travel far to see the show. On the other hand …

“Some times, it approximates a war zone,” said Dennis Zoet, chairman of the Hudson’s Bay Neighborhood Association. “To my taste, there are more benign ways to celebrate.”

But things have been getting better, said Zoet. He has lived near the east end of Officers Row on Ninth Street for a dozen or so years, and has seen the event become more neighborhood-friendly.

“Last year, they toned it down a little,” Zoet said.

The Fort Vancouver National Trust now produces the event, and “We are very sensitive to the impact,” said Elson Strahan, president of the nonprofit trust. “We want to be good neighbors.”

And that work is producing results, several neighborhood residents say.

“Elson has been real good working with us,” said Marcia Naas, a former neighborhood association officer.

“The association requested Porta-Potties for people who couldn’t make it home,” Naas said. “He responded right away.” That helped people trying to head home after the event, as well as local residents who have had to deal with some unpleasant cleanup chores each July 5.

The trust readjusted boundaries of the celebration zone, moving traffic barricades to accommodate local residents.

Organizers also have tried to change the focus of the celebration, Strahan said. The event took a year off in 2009, which gave organizers a chance to reconsider the format.

It provided an opportunity to look at what could be done in offering more family-friendly events, activities and entertainment, Strahan said.

“It used to be a giant music fest, punctuated by fireworks,” Strahan said. Now, a full schedule of events starts at noon, with activities all over the site.

“We now have a patriotic children’s parade,” Strahan said, as well as kids’ games and races.

When the event returned a year ago, attracting about 35,000 people, “It brought a different kind of crowd,” Strahan said. “We wanted families to come, put their blanket down and stay the entire day.”

“It used to be, there would be one crowd during the day; you’d see them leave at 6 or 7,” said Kathy Nelson, former neighborhood association officer. The evening crowd would include people bringing in beer and their own fireworks.

“It’s turned more family-friendly,” Nelson said.

Some of that can be traced to another change. Organizers now charge an admission fee to get into the celebration.

“When you get a crowd that has to pay, you draw a crowd that doesn’t want to blow up the place,” said Zoet, neighborhood association president.

There still are some issues, including traffic problems. Neighborhood residents can obtain passes that will allow them to get past barricades when they drive away or return home during the day. But there still is a lot of traffic in the neighborhood.

And many residents still feel like they have to stay home to hold down the fort on July 4, just in case.

“A couple of years ago, I had four fires,” Nelson said. “One on the roof and three lawn fires.”

And a couple of residents agreed on another point: It’s not always the visitors from across town who are the problem. Sometimes, it’s the folks living just down the street who are hosting the rowdy party or are setting off fireworks all day long.

“But it’s one day of the year,” Nelson said. “The rest of the year makes up for it.”