Fourth at the Fair is sponsored by ilani Casino and will feature free admission
RIDGEFIELD — The only thing harder than putting together a major fireworks show may be managing to do it over the course of just a few months and with no taxpayer money involved.
That’s just what Clark County Councilor Julie Olson managed to do in bringing together ilani Casino, along with the cities of Ridgefield, Battle Ground, and La Center, to put on Fourth at the Fairgrounds.
Olson says the idea started a couple of years ago when an errant firework nearly burned down her home. Since then the county has passed new restrictions on when fireworks can be sold or used, but aerial fireworks are still allowed outside of Vancouver city limits.
“I got to thinking about ‘what is the Fourth of July, and what does it mean to me and to our community, and what could it mean,’” Olson told ClarkCountyToday.com, “in addition to, or rather than, turning our neighborhoods into kind of war zones.”
Also two years ago ilani Casino sought to put on their own fireworks show at their property along I-5 near La Center. The idea was met with pushback from neighbors worried the noise would spook their animals.
Olson says that sparked her to think about the Clark County Fairgrounds, which usually sits unused on Independence Day.
“It was a bit of knowing that ilani was potentially a great partner,” she told ClarkCountyToday.com, “and then my desire to try to do what I could, or what we could as a community, to give people an option other than lighting off fireworks in our neighborhoods.”
Tom Teesdale, vice president of marketing for ilani, says the Cowlitz Tribe jumped at the chance to do something.
“It’s a very traditional opportunity to celebrate a great American holiday with all of our friends and family here in Clark County,” Teesdale says.
That led to a committee formed of members from Ridgefield, Battle Ground, La Center, and area businesses to discuss how a show could come together. Ultimately, Olson says they were able to find all private funding and no taxpayer money is being spent on the event.
“I can’t say enough about this committee that we formed and the commitment from ilani and our local jurisdictions in our cities about getting this event off the ground,” Olson says.
The event, she says, also represents an alternative for folks in north Clark County who might otherwise avoid the crowds at Fort Vancouver. Still, she says this isn’t about pulling people away from that event, or the Port of Camas-Washougal annual fireworks show.
“We weren’t trying to compete, we just wanted to get everybody together,” Olson says. “And that includes the Fort Vancouver show. I’ve reached out to them and met with them, and the county is going to pass a resolution June 4th that supports all the community fireworks celebrations in the county.”
Like the Fort Vancouver fireworks show, admission to Fourth at the Fairgrounds will be free, though you will have to pay a small amount for parking. Leading up to a 20-25 minute fireworks show that Teesdale promises will be “spectacular” will be a Battle of the Bands. The casino has been soliciting videos from bands interested in competing in order to make sure the quality is good. They’re also teaming up with a local app developer to allow people to vote for their favorite band using their phone.
The Fairground property also provides space for a play zone for youngsters, a beer and wine garden for adults, along with a food court and other activities. Olson says the USA Veterans All-Star baseball team, who will be playing at the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex earlier in the day, will be at the fairgrounds to be honored before the fireworks show.
As for cost, ilani isn’t saying how much they’re spending on the event. The Fort Vancouver National Trust has said in recent years that their show costs north of $300,000 to put on.
“It’s really been an amazing joining of folks throughout the community and the surrounding areas to come together to talk about how we can put this event on and have a really fun, safe day for families here in Clark County,” says Teesdale.
With experts predicting that wildfire season will be coming earlier as our Spring and Summer weather heats up, private fireworks have come under greater scrutiny in recent years. Oregon made aerial fireworks illegal years ago, and Vancouver banned all fireworks in 2016.
Olson says she’s in favor of tighter restrictions on fireworks. She pushed for a ban on aerial fireworks last year, but the council settled for simply limiting the time when fireworks can legally be sold or used. The addition of another premiere fireworks show to the area, Olson hopes, will push more people to choose a safe, professional pyrotechnics display over putting on their own aerial display in a neighborhood surrounded by other people’s homes.