Clark County Fourth of July revelers will have more choices this year.
A new free event featuring a fireworks display, live music, food and other amenities will be offered at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds.
Organizers of the event, dubbed “Clark County 4th at the Fairgrounds,” insist the new event is not intended to compete with other annual Fourth of July events at Fort Vancouver and the Port of Camas-Washougal.
Instead, Clark County Councilor Julie Olson said that the new event she helped organize is intended to be an alternative for residents, particularly those in the north part of the rapidly growing county.
“It’s really just encouraging people to get out in the community and celebrate and try not to blow up our neighborhoods,” said Olson.
Organizers of the other events also say they’re supportive of another option at the fairgrounds outside of Ridgefield.
“The more, the merrier,” said Jennifer Harmon, director of marketing and communications, for the Historic Trust, which puts on the Fourth of July event at Fort Vancouver.
The new event will have its debut as Clark County rethinks its relationship with fireworks, which have caused some residents (particularly in denser areas) to complain about their noise, litter and effects on animals.
In recent years, multiple jurisdictions in Clark County have reworked their fireworks regulations, scaling back the days that the celebratory explosives can be sold and launched. The city of Vancouver went the farthest, passing an outright ban that went into effect in 2016.
Last year, Clark County updated its fireworks regulations, allowing residents to launch the illuminations only on the Fourth of July, among other provisions. Olson has had a particular interest in the topic after her house outside of Ridgefield was left badly burned after the 2017 holiday. When the county reconsidered its regulations, Olson unsuccessfully pushed to ban aerial fireworks, which launch into the air and are illegal in other jurisdictions.
Since then, Olson said that she’s been having conversations to drum up support for another event with a controlled fireworks show. On Tuesday, the county council unanimously passed a resolution establishing the inaugural Clark County 4th at the Fairgrounds as an official county event.
The resolution also encourages residents to celebrate there, or at Fort Vancouver or the Port of Camas-Washougal.
Mickey Webb, executive director of the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, said that the county has not put on Fourth of July event in many years.
Webb said he’s been working on the event with Olson and others since September and recently registered a nonprofit with the state of Washington to provide structure for the inaugural event.
“We call it ‘the inaugural’ because we hope it will happen year after year,” said Webb.
He said that the most recent budget put the cost of the event between $85,000 to $90,000. He said that money will come from a $6 parking fee, with the rest coming from sponsors. He said that ilani is the presenting sponsor.
Webb said that gates will open at 5 p.m., and a battle-of-the-bands competition will commence at 5:45 p.m. before the 25-minute fireworks display at 10 p.m. He said the kid-friendly event will also include fair food and food trucks, as well as a beer garden, commercial vendors, inflatable play structures and other activities.
He said he’s working with C-Tran on getting a shuttle from the 99th Street Transit Center Park & Ride.
He said that the grandstand at the fairgrounds can hold from 7,500 to 10,000 people, though he said he was unsure how many people will attend.
The organizers of Clark County’s other free firework shows said they welcome the new event as a way of offering residents another option to enjoy to the holiday.
Vancouver’s Fireworks Spectacular produced by the Historic Trust on the National Park Service grounds at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site has long been billed as the “biggest fireworks display west of the Mississippi River” and is in its 56th year.
“This has been such a tradition and people already know about it,” said Harmon, of the Historic Trust.
But she said that in 2017 about 35,000 people attended the free event at Fort Vancouver, which decreased to between 22,000 to 25,000 last year.
Harmon said that this year there will be a variety of food vendors and bands before the show. Alcohol is not allowed at the event she said.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said David Ripp, the executive director of Port of Camas-Washougal, of the new event.
Ripp said that the port has been putting on the Fourth of July event since 2010 when it took it over from the city of Washougal. He estimated that between 4,000 to 5,000 people gather into three parks operated by the port for the show.
He said that the event will include food vendors, a live band and a beer garden before fireworks are launched from a barge operated by Marks Marine Services.
“We’re pretty well-established,” he said.