HELENA — Ongoing concerns about the coronavirus have had big impacts on Fourth of July festivities around the Helena area.
Despite challenges, organizers of the largest local fireworks display say they are still ready to go on Saturday night.
“Thanks to so many supporters, it’s gone a lot better than we thought it was going to,” said Shellie Mitchell, owner of Shellie’s Country Café and one of the lead organizers of the Prickly Pear Community Fireworks Celebration.
The Prickly Pear show fires off each summer from the top of the East Helena slag pile. This is the fourth year Shellie’s has put the event together.
Mitchell said COVID-19 restrictions delayed their annual fundraising campaign by about two months, but strong support from local business sponsors meant they won’t have to scale back the show.
“We thought when we started we’d be much lower – have a smaller show – but it’s actually going to be about what we normally do in the last several years,” said Aimee Myles, general manager of Shellie’s. “We’re pretty happy for that; we’re proud of that.”
Town Pump committed $10,000 to the celebration, and the Montana Radio Company, Lithia, Eagles Aerie 4040, the city of East Helena, VFW Post 10010, the Man Store and First Community Bank were also sponsors.
East Helena city leaders are asking anyone watching the show to maintain distance, especially in city parks. They have put up signs in the parks to drive home that point.
“Come early, spread yourself out, keep those physical distances at six feet, wear a mask, enjoy the day, be safe,” said Mayor James Schell.
For the last five years, Helena has been the host of the Capital City Fourth of July Celebration, a community event in Centennial Park that centers around the raising of the 30-foot by 50-foot Old Glory Landmark flag. This year, the celebration has been canceled.
“It’s just not right to have a big crowd of people,” said Chuck Butler of the Helena Ambassadors. “We respect what we’re trying to do in this very difficult time, but we’ll be here in 2021, so see you next July.”
There will be a small flag-raising event Saturday, but Butler asked the public to stay away. The Fourth of July has traditionally been when they replace the flag used through the winter with a lighter-weight flag intended for summer.
In Lincoln, the annual Fourth of July parade is set to begin at 11 a.m., and the fireworks display will start at dusk. Boulder will also hold a fireworks show.
Townsend’s Old Fashioned 4th in the Park has been canceled.
There’s one other factor adding some uncertainty to this year’s Independence Day celebrations: the possibility of storms Saturday night. Organizers of the Prickly Pear fireworks say they will leave the decision on how to proceed up to their technicians, but they remain hopeful the show will go on at the scheduled time.
“Let’s keep our fingers crossed, because we do need the one thing this year that we can all enjoy and have fun,” said Mitchell. “So Mother Nature just needs to work with us, just for about 40 minutes, and we’ll hope we can get through this.”