In a first for Lake Oswego, this year's Fourth of July festivities will feature not one but two fireworks shows.
In previous years, the City contributed partial funding to a show hosted by the private Lake Oswego Corporation at the west end of Oswego Lake, with a public viewing area at the Lake Grove Swim Park. That show will still happen this year, but without any financial involvement from the City.
Instead, Lake Oswego will put on its own public show at George Rogers Park, with fireworks launched from a barge on the Willamette River. The 20-minute show is scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m., although the start time could be delayed by up to 30 minutes, depending on the weather and amount of remaining daylight.
The main viewing area will be the baseball fields at George Rogers Park, but the show is also intended to be viewed from Millennium Plaza Park downtown, giving residents a choice of venues.
"The upper ballfield is the prime viewing area," said Recreation Supervisor Jamie Ingles. "You'll also be able to see it from Millennium Plaza Park — they'll go high enough up."
The City Council voted last year to produce its own shows starting in 2018, due to concerns about the lack of public viewing space available at the swim park on Lakeview Boulevard and increasingly gridlocked traffic in the area during the event.
The City hired Canby-based Western Display Fireworks to produce the show and work out the logistical details. Western produces more than 200 fireworks shows each year, including the Fourth of July Blues Festival show in Portland.
"It'll be kind of like a slightly smaller version of the Blues Festival," said Heather Gobet of Western Display. "It's going to have a lot of intense multi-shot items, and it should be a really good show."
The show will cost about $24,000, compared to the $13,000-$16,000 that the City has contributed to the Lake Corp shows in past years. It will serve as the official climax to a Fourth of July celebration that starts with a patriotic concert on July 3 and also includes a pancake breakfast and Star Spangled Parade.
City staff had initially envisioned the fireworks show taking place at Foothills Park, but Western concluded that the section of the Willamette River near the park wouldn't be wide enough to accommodate the necessary "fallout zone" around the launch barge unless the show was limited to small rockets.
Relocating the show to the river next to George Rogers Park will allow Western to use rocket shells that can reach heights of more than 200 feet and will be clearly visible from both George Rogers and Millennium Plaza parks, officials said. It will also keep the 400-foot fallout zone — the required space between the point where the fireworks are set off and any potential combustible items like trees, brush, homes, etc. — entirely on the river.
The new location also offers considerably more public seating — the George Rogers ballfields alone are twice the size of the swim park, Inglis said. It should still be possible to watch the show from Foothills Park, according to Ingles, although the show wasn't designed with that location in mind.
All three of the George Rogers parking lots will be available for viewers, along with street parking on the north side. Viewers can also park at the public parking lot next to the Willamette Shore Trolley station and walk to George Rogers, and attendees at Millennium Plaza will have access to the Lake View Village and Windward public parking garages.
Police officials said the show could cause traffic backups in the downtown area, but not on a greater scale than what residents usually see during downtown events such as the Festival of the Arts.
"There always is (traffic congestion) with these events," said LOPD Lt. Darryl Wrisley. "We're just hoping that people will carpool in, maybe catch Uber or Lyft or something like that, and coordinate that ahead of time."
Inglis and Wrisley both said that since this is the first year the City has put on a show in the downtown area, there's a degree of uncertainty about some aspects of the event, such as the size of the crowd that will show up.
That's partly why the City has opted not to have any food vendors at George Rogers Park; instead, viewers are encouraged to bring picnic food. Inglis and Wrisley said the feedback and data from this year will help inform how the City approaches future downtown shows.
The LOPD will have a large presence on hand to deal with any problems, Wrisley said. The department has scheduled as many officers as possible to work that night, and officers will also be keeping an eye on the swim park, which will still be open for anyone who wants to view the Lake Corp show.
"We haven't experienced this before," he said, "so we're trying to cover it as well as we can with everybody in case any issues come up."
The U.S. Coast Guard is finalizing a plan for a safety zone that will close the entire width of the Willamette River near the barge for the duration of the show in order to maintain a safe distance around it. More information about the closure can be found at tinyurl.com/LOFireworksZone.
LOPD officials also are reminding residents that it's illegal to sit or stand on any part of the rail line that runs through Lake Oswego, even during the show. The beach at George Rogers Park will be closed starting at some point in the afternoon before the show to provide a safe launch point for the barge.
"The beach will be completely closed off as soon as the barge arrives," Wrisley said. "We're hoping that people realize that so that when they grab a spot, they'll do it up on the field and not down on the beach."
The new show location has caused a bit of consternation for a few residents, such as Birdshill Neighborhood Association Chair Charles Ormsby, who has sent a number of letters to City staff expressing concerns about fire hazards and traffic jams.
The subject also came up last month at a meeting of the Oak Grove Community Council, which represents the unincorporated residential area on the east side of the river across from Lake Oswego. Council member Baldwin van der Bijl said the discussion focused on similar concerns such as smoke, traffic and fire hazards.
However, he downplayed the level of concern and said the initial discussion was mostly held because there didn't seem to be widespread awareness of the show among Oak Grove residents at the time.
"I think it was more an informational discussion, making people aware that you're going to hear things close to your home," he said. "We didn't take a formal vote for any action; just left it up to individuals to contact Lake Oswego if they're very concerned."
In terms of any potential fire danger, Lake Oswego Fire Marshal Gert Zoutendijk told The Review that the 400-foot fallout area will be entirely above the river. Western Display obtained a permit from the state Fire Marshal, he said, which Zoutendijk also reviewed as part of the approval process.
The permit can be revoked if conditions change, he added. For example, George Rogers Park was scheduled to be the launch site for a fireworks show in September 2017 to celebrate the finale of the Oregon Iron Jubilee, but Zoutendijk pulled the permit due to concerns about dry weather and wind conditions in the days leading up to the show.
"As the Fire Marshal being responsible for the fire safety of our community and citizens, I would be the first to deny a permit if I feel it would be a danger or safety concern," he said.
IF YOU GO
Lake Oswego is planning a festive Fourth of July celebration, adding a fireworks show to a day already filled with pancakes, a parade and more.
• It all starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3, when the Millennium Concert Band honors veterans with a free evening of patriotic music in Millennium Plaza Park (200 First St.). The Lake Oswego Police Department Honor Guard will present the colors.
• Pancakes and sausages await diners from 7 a.m.-noon on Wednesday, July 4, at the Lake Oswego Lions Club's 69th-annual pancake breakfast in George Rogers Park (611 S. State St.). The cost is $9 for adults and $6 for kids younger than 12; proceeds benefit Lions Club programs throughout the year.
• At 10 a.m. on the Fourth, hundreds of people will meander through downtown Lake Oswego in the always-popular Star Spangled Parade, which starts at the intersection of Iron Mountain Boulevard and Chandler Road, heads down 10th Street and along A Avenue, and finishes in Millennium Plaza Park. There, the celebration continues with live music, a pie-eating contest, face painting, balloon animals and more.
• The inaugural Star Spangled Fireworks Spectacular is scheduled to begin at 9:30 p.m. on July 4, depending on the weather and how long it remains light outside. The best viewing will be from upper Geore Rogers Park, although the pyrotechnics will also be visible from Foothills (199 Foothills Drive) and Millennium Plaza parks.
For more information about all of the Fourth of July events, go to tinyurl.com/StarSpangledLO.