As they sat in the shade waiting for Vancouver’s Fireworks Spectacular to start, Diane Bott, 52, and her daughter Trinity, 12, admitted they were a little disappointed.
The show, in its 56th year, included the return of food vendors and music — both of which were missing in 2018 — but the gigantic crowds of earlier decades seemed nowhere to be found. Instead, visitors clustered throughout the late afternoon under trees, on blankets or wherever there was some shade from the warm sun at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.
It was a decent-sized crowd, but it certainly wasn’t 50,000 people, and likely not even the 35,000 that The Historic Trust was initially expecting. As of 8:30 p.m., about 12,000 people had gathered, according to Jennifer Harmon, an organizer with The Historic Trust, “but they are starting to come in droves.”
“I don’t know what that means, but it is definitely starting to pick up,” she said in a phone message shortly before 9 p.m. “And C-Tran is dropping a lot of people off.”
Harmon estimated a turnout of 20,000 to 22,000 people.
“Last year was bad,” Bott said. “I was really disappointed. Without having food or music, we kind of regretted it. They said they were going to have more than what they have this year, but this is it — just a few food stands. I should have gone down to the (Clark County) Fairgrounds, but I hear it was pretty dead down there too.”
Bott, who grew up in Vancouver, said she remembers a time when Vancouver’s Fireworks Spectacular was an all-day event jam-packed with things to do.
“When I was a kid, we had people selling all kinds of stuff; there were vending machines, activities and stuff up in the playgrounds,” Bott said. “We used to spend the whole day down here when I was a kid. At least we have food this year though. We had a gyro and it was yummy.”
As the evening wore on, visitors played catch or kicked soccer balls around, while smaller children clustered toward the Bubble Boys, who were blowing soap bubbles for them to pop.
Alyysio Elliott, 20, who recently moved back to Vancouver from Stevenson, came to the show with her parents, brother and little sister Aiyanna Elliott, who’s “almost 9.” Alyysio hadn’t been to the Fort Vancouver show in several years, and said she was glad to hear the live music, with bands playing mostly cover songs.
Her sister, though, was all about the fireworks.
“I wonder if there will be huge fireworks,” Aiyanna said as she waited for the show to start. “Sometimes the full firework doesn’t burn out, and so you get a burning piece that lands on you.”
At that, Aiyanna looked over at her sister and grinned.
“It could land on you,” she said.
Alyysio Elliot laughed at the thought.
“If that’s how I go, that’s how I go,” she said to her little sister. “At least I won’t have to work Friday.”
Jim Pillsbury, 71, a former Clark County sheriff’s deputy, said he also noticed the festivities were not what they once were and that there was very little in the way of a police presence around.
“When we first started coming, there was wall-to-wall people from the fence to the carts, and they’d have carts all along the fence,” Pillsbury said. “There were booths to buy trinkets, elephant ears, anything you wanted. It turned out, whoever took this over said that was all too commercial. But this is supposed to be entertainment.”
Despite the lack of options, though, he said he still enjoys the fireworks show and the family atmosphere.
“They shortened the fireworks show quite a bit, but it’s still really good,” Pillsbury said. “I don’t think anyone needs a 50-minute fireworks show. I think 25 to 35 minutes is fine. Plus, it’s the Fourth of July, and this is a good place to be alive.”
Carol Walsh, 54, said she usually watches the fireworks with her family on television but decided to come to the show just to do something different.
“The fireworks brought us out,” Walsh said. “We actually didn’t know there would be food, so we brought a bunch of our own. But the slushies over at the stand look good.”
Donning a pair of red, white and blue fairy wings, Cherie Smith, who came over to watch the show from Portland with her family, said she also noticed that it wasn’t as full of activities as it had been in the past. But she added that absolutely nothing was going to dampen her Fourth of July spirit.
“There’s no big TV screens, no classic cars or airplanes, but the people are still awesome,” Smith said. “Wherever I go I bring the sunshine. I’m just happy, grateful, thankful for the sunshine, thankful for the little things. For me, this is all about family, it’s about building moments together, building memories.”