Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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In Our View: Community has more to offer than fireworks

The Columbian
Published:

For years, starting in the 1960s, Vancouver was largely defined by its annual fireworks show. Fourth of July gatherings near Fort Vancouver would be accompanied by pyrotechnics that drew tens of thousands of people from Clark County and beyond. Many thousands more would line the southern bank of the Columbia River to watch from afar.

For those who considered the river to be a virtual wall between Washington and Oregon, the event afforded a glimpse of the other side, in many respects being the only notable thing about Vancouver.

Now, the apparent demise of the tradition reflects a changing city, a changing populace and a changing society. There are benefits to that, even if there is reason to lament the passing of an era.

On Tuesday, The Historic Trust announced that a smaller, fireworks-free event at Fort Vancouver will replace the Independence Day fireworks extravaganza. This follows two summers of fireworks cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There was hope that a post-pandemic normal would include a return of the fireworks show. But other factors have intervened; Historic Trust officials cited rising costs, scarce resources and wildfire risks as reasons for the cancellation. According to The Columbian, the nonprofit organization will collaborate with the National Park Service and the city of Vancouver on a new community-picnic-style event called Summer Fest that may permanently replace the annual fireworks show.

“People’s memory of the Fourth of July isn’t necessarily the red chrysanthemum firework. It’s the time spent together as a family. We haven’t been able to do that for two years,” said Amy VanCamp, director of marketing and events for The Historic Trust. “If we can be true to the memory of the tradition without putting pressure on the resources around us, let’s make that be the new memory.”

For people who viewed the elaborate fireworks show — often promoted as the largest west of the Mississippi River — to be Vancouver’s defining event, VanCamp’s statement might be overly Pollyannaish. But Vancouver is not alone in addressing the realities of modern fireworks shows.

A traditional Fourth of July show in Poulsbo has been canceled this year. A show near Lake Tahoe has been changed to a drone light show. A show in Oklahoma City last month was canceled. And many cities in Israel canceled displays surrounding that nation’s Independence Day out of concern for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

John Adams, in the spelling of his time, once wrote that America’s independence “ought to be solemnized with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

Rising costs, however, have rendered large fireworks shows illogical for many communities. So have concerns about wildfires with an increasingly dry climate — concerns that also should apply to traditional backyard shows.

For Vancouver, the loss of the city’s largest annual event will be powerful. There is a sense of community that comes with thousands of people gathering to celebrate the nation’s independence.

But no longer do local residents rely on a once-a-year event to inspire pride in their community. There is a vibrant downtown, a lustrous waterfront development, a diverse and robust economy, wondrous natural beauty and a generous and welcoming populace to help define the region.

Those attributes, fortunately, are here 365 days a year. And they are more important than our desire for Fourth of July fireworks.

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