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Fireworks show in danger of going kaboom

Fireworks explode during an earlier  July 3 show at Freeland Park. The annual  presentation may be canceled this year if the money can’t be raised, organizers say. - Record file
Fireworks explode during an earlier July 3 show at Freeland Park. The annual presentation may be canceled this year if the money can’t be raised, organizers say.
— image credit: Record file

The rocket’s red glare may fizzle this year if sponsors of the annual July 3 fireworks at Freeland Park can’t come up with enough cash, and soon.

“We really want to have the event,” said Pastor Matt Chambers of the South Whidbey Assembly of God Church, which has sponsored Celebrate America on the shore of Holmes Harbor for 15 years. “We’ve been planning for months.”

“We have everything in place,” he added, “except the resources.”

Chambers said organizers were hit with a triple whammy this year that puts the fate of the $40,000 patriotic pyrotechnic show in doubt.

• Because of budget woes, the Island County Sheriff’s Office will no longer pick up the $4,800 expense to provide security for the event that annually attracts thousands of people to the Holmes Harbor area.

• Several of the largest donors in the area are cutting back on their contributions this year because of the sour economy.

• Recent federal regulations regarding shuttle services may sideline Island Transit in favor of private contractors that could cost much more.

So far, the church has come up with only a third of the money needed for the show, Chambers said. If at least $30,000 isn’t committed by May 31, there likely won’t be a show, he said.

“We’ll have to consider that maybe we won’t do it this year, and pick it up next year, hoping the economy will be better,” Chambers said.

The annual free event features games, food, entertainment and patriotism along with the fireworks.

In past years, as many as 7,000 people from Whidbey and off-island have jammed the park for the show, while hundreds more have watched at private parties in the surrounding area, Chambers said.

The bulk of the expense, about $30,000, goes for fireworks, he said. The rest goes for attractions for children, food, portable toilets and shuttle transportation. This year, security will be an additional expense.

At past events, Island Transit has provided about six hours worth of shuttle runs between the park and nearby vehicle parking areas. Recent federal rules, however, require public transit to step aside if private operators show interest.

Chambers said firms in Mount Vernon and Tacoma have indicated interest, and that the cost will likely far exceed what Island Transit has been charging.

He said the Seattle Mariners baseball team faced a similar situation with its public transit shuttle service to the stadium from outlying malls, and ended up dropping the service altogether.

Chambers said the Freeland event is in danger of going the way of other Fourth of July fireworks displays in the area.

He said Ivar’s won’t sponsor the show at Alki Beach in Seattle this year, and that Mount Vernon, Burlington and Friday Harbor all have cancelled their fireworks displays this year.

Chambers said the church near Langley, which has a weekly attendance of about 300, has organized the annual fireworks event as a gift to the area, and has no intention of charging admission.

He said that along with the show, the church has conducted a food drive at the event to benefit Good Cheer Food Bank.

He said if the show is cancelled, donations already received will be returned, or diverted to local charities if so directed by the donors.

But Chambers is determined to stay upbeat.

He said a list of top local talent is lined up for this year’s event, and that the fireworks have been arranged.

He said if those who enjoy attending the event, or enjoy watching it from their yards and decks, would each make a small contribution, the shortfall easily could be covered.

“It’s a great honor to be able to organize this celebration for the community,” Chambers said. “In times like these, communities need these sorts of events. They bring people together.”

Donations can be sent to Celebrate America, PO Box 1449 Langley, WA 982620, or contributed at www.swag-online.org. Or call 221-1656 for information or to have a self-addressed envelope sent.

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