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Ashland calls off Fourth of July parade as expected

What was strongly suspected before Gov. Kate Brown released details about Oregon’s forthcoming phased reopening on Thursday, May 7, was only confirmed by the report: Ashland’s Fourth of July parade is cancelled and an identical fate for the fireworks show may not be far behind.

Ashland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandra Slattery confirmed Monday that the annual Independence Day celebration has been called off, a casualty of the state’s latest set of COVID-19 recovery guidelines, and that the question of whether there’ll be a fireworks show will be answered later this week.

“We’re having a formal board meeting Thursday but we certainly are going to follow the governor’s guidelines and her restrictions are that large events are banned until the end of September,” Slattery said. “So, that takes into account every Fourth of July celebration in Oregon in terms of parades, park activity, anything that’s going to draw a crowd of more than 12 people isn’t going to be allowed, unfortunately. As sad as that makes us in terms of our event and the historic, well-loved event that it is, it’s just not something we would do in light of these requirements as well as the safety of our population.”

The framework for Oregon’s reopening, available at www.oregon.gov, all but eliminates the possibility of a large public gathering during the next five months, even if the number of cases in Jackson County remain low (there were 50 with zero deaths as of Tuesday). Concerts, conventions, festivals and live audience sports “won’t be possible until a reliable treatment or prevention is available,” reads part of the 22-page “Reopening Oregon” breakdown. “It is unknown at this time when this will be. Therefore, all large gatherings should be canceled or significantly modified through at least September. Further guidance on large gatherings scheduled for later in the fall will be provided this summer.”

Slattery said the Chamber of Commerce board will decide during Thursday’s meeting whether to go forward with the annual fireworks show, which is performed by Western Display Fireworks at a cost of about $20,000. The show typically is booked by now, a move which would have cost the city a cancellation fee if it ends up being called off, but Slattery decided to take a wait-and-see approach once COVID-19 began to take hold about two months ago.

If the board decides to stick with the fireworks show, it will begin fundraising immediately since the cost of the show is covered through donations and sponsorships.

“With the fireworks, you have to hire paid security, insurance, you have to put the staff up,” Slattery said, adding that the Fourth of July festivities, including the parade, fireworks, porta potty rentals and insurance, cost $50,000.

Ashland’s Fourth of July parade dates back to the 19th century and typically attracts about 20,000 people. There is no known precedent for its cancellation. Local historian Ben Truwe said the most likely circumstance that could have led to that was the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918-19, but noted that that killer virus hit the West Coast in the fall of 1918 and the parade went on without a hitch in both 1918 and 1919.

“It’s hard to imagine,” Slattery said. “For all of us it’s hard to imagine a Fourth without the parade and parks activities, but it’s hard to imagine all of this. But we certainly hope to bring it all back next year.

“We’ve got a couple of ideas that we’re planning that could give people something fun that’s different to celebrate, but we won’t be able to celebrate the way we have in the past.”

The Ashland Fourth of July Run, held every year since 1977, will likely be a free virtual race this year similar to the Pear Blossom Run, with competitors reporting their times for both the 2-mile fun run and 10-kilometer race.

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

Tidings file photo of Ashland's Fourth of July parade.