Bringing Back the Glory

Fort Vancouver revives July 4 event – with a little help from its friends

Since 1964, the Independence Day celebration at Fort Vancouver National Site has been a cherished Southwest Washington tradition – one culminating with a spectacular fireworks display under a warm night sky.

In 2009 however, the skies over the Columbia River went dark.

Here's the story of how the Fort Vancouver National Trust, the organizer of the Independence Day celebration, brought back this time-honored tradition using a combination of corporate sponsorships, ticket sales and other revenue streams.

"There had always been a sense of presumption in Vancouver," said Elson Strahan, CEO of the Trust, "Everyone just expected the show to always be here."

When the rocket's red glare failed to appear on July 4 last year, Camas-resident David Moss, SW Washington Market President at Bank of America, sought out Strahan to offer his help. "It is cliché, but you really don't know what you have until it's gone," Moss said.

Bank of America came on board as a presenting sponsor for an event featuring several key changes from Independence Day celebrations past – many of which were announced to the public at a press conference held at the Red Cross Building at Fort Vancouver last week.

This year, organizers will charge attendees $5 for tickets purchased in advance; $7 for tickets bought at the gate. In previous years, attendance had been free. According to Strahan, ticket proceeds were expected to provide $130,000 of the event's projected $315,000 budget.

"In developing this fee structure, we wanted to make sure it was affordable," Strahan said.

According to Kim Hash, program director with the Trust, free tickets will be distributed through the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest Washington, Share, YWCA and Family-Community Resource Centers. Other nonprofit organizations have also been invited to sell tickets.

Other changes include a start time of noon rather than 9 a.m. on July 4, four performance stages rather than one and a much expanded program of both informational events and entertainment, Hash said.

Additionally, the fireworks will be launched on the Fort's land rather than from a barge in the Columbia River, and therefore won't be visible from Portland – an incentive to get people to come north, Strahan said.

As to the question of whether this new model will become the norm for Independence Day celebrations at Fort Vancouver National Site going forward, Strahan said he hoped an increased number of donations from residents would provide long-term financial stability for the event.

The outpouring of disapproval after last year's cancellation highlighted the community's continued interest in the Fourth of July celebration, according to Strahan. "If everyone came who emailed, called and sent letters, then I think we will easily have the usual 60,000 attendees," he said.

Tickets for this year's Independence Day at Fort Vancouver can be purchased on www.FortVan.org, through various local charities or at the even