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Independence Day at Fort Vancouver
I grew up fascinated by fireworks. Maybe it was the big booms, the ones that made me jump in my mother's womb a week before I was born. Maybe it was the colorful lights, or the way the smoke trailed off in the afterglow.
Or maybe it was the fact I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, USA, a city that is proud of its heritage.
If you ask someone from Vancouver where they live, you will get answers such as "Vancouver, USA", "the southern Vancouver", "Vancouver, Washington", and "America's Vancouver". People want you to know that they are American, and from the West Coast. Yes, those of us who grew up here are very proud of our nation, and also proud of the many cultures that have come together to make this city, and the region, what it is today.
There is no better time to celebrate that than Independence Day. If you visit Vancouver, WA, on the fourth of July you will find flags waving everywhere, people in the streets setting off fireworks, and barbecues. But if you go downtown to the festivities, you had better bring a blanket or a sand chair and be prepared to spend the afternoon and evening if you want to experience Independence Day at the Fort.
The festivities kick off with craft vendors and food on the north sidewalk of the federal reserve. The south sidewalk by the Fort has food vendors as well. There always are a variety of great bands at the main stage, so you can leave your blanket spread out there while you shop and eat. Just south of the craft vendors, you can find some open space to play frisbee, hackey sack, football, or catch. Leashed dogs are welcome, too.
Most of the houses on the historic Officers' Row are open to visitors with tours at the main venues: the George C. Marshall House, the Ulysses S. Grant House, and the O.O. Howard House. These feature cultural demonstrations by volunteers dressed in period costumes, showing how people lived during the late 1800's to mid-1900's. The fort itself is also open for tours, and volunteers there demonstrate what life was like when the British controlled the area, with blacksmithing, baking, and other aspects of life in the fur trade.
During the afternoon, there is an air show and flybys with parachuters. A marching band parades the grounds, and you can travel in style up and down Officers' Row in a horse-drawn buggy. For a day, you can live the history of the land as it grew from a trading post to a military base, then became a bustling town.
As the afternoon turns into evening, the parade grounds begin to fill up. People play cards or board games, chat, eat dinners they brought or purchased, and settle down to await the show. Here and there, oddities crop up: a huge Texas flag, a couch that five people carried down the sidewalk and set up by the fence on the north side, golf umbrellas tipped on their sides, and tarps set up under trees. All the tarps and umbrellas will be taken down at dark, but they serve as markers for those looking for their places nearby.
About 9:30, you can look over the Columbia River to see the fireworks starting at Oaks Park. That's the signal for everyone to fold up umbrellas and take down tarps, getting settled for the big event. Finally, BOOM, the "biggest fireworks show west of the Mississippi" begins!
After the grand finale, people leave in a hurry to beat the traffic. Be prepared to wait in your car at least 20 minutes to get out of downtown, but the show makes it all worthwhile.
- Fort Vancouver National Site | Fort Vancouver, Pearson Air Museum and Officers Row
Fort Vancouver National Site is Portland and Vancouver Washington's national park. The 366-acre site includes Fort Vancouver, Pearson Air Museum, Officers Row, General O.O. Howard House, Marshall House, the Land Bridge.