Several of the area’s localities have canceled their Fourth of July celebrations and festivities this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while others plan to hold Independence Day events either as scheduled or at a later date.
Frederick County and the towns of Front Royal and Strasburg will not host their annual holiday festivities as social restrictions and health concerns stemming from the pandemic continue to produce a fog of uncertainty around the gathering of large groups of people.
Woodstock’s July 4 fireworks display is still a go, Town Manager Angela Clem confirmed on Tuesday morning, and Middletown, according to a recent story published by the Winchester Star, also plans to hold its fireworks that day, though in a scaled-back fashion (there will be no ground-level pyrotechnics and all fireworks will be aerial so that they are more broadly visible) in order to lessen the potential of large social gatherings.
New Market, too, will proceed with its Independence Day celebration, though not until Sept. 12, when the town hopes to be able to showcase its fireworks display and the usual full complement of activities at the community park in what figures to be a timely show of patriotism on the day after Sept. 11.
Clem stated in an email that Woodstock, even during normal years, limits its Independence Day celebration to a fireworks display at the Shenandoah County Fairgrounds. She noted that in lieu of other Fourth of July festivities, the town annually holds the “Vintage Woodstock” downtown event during the last week of June, which has since been canceled due to COVID-19.
Clem added that while Woodstock will post signage asking people to remain with their vehicles or maintain 6 feet of physical distance at the fairgrounds during the July 4 fireworks, most people tend to find their “favorite place in town to view the fireworks with their families” since the display is in a central location.
The fate of Strasburg’s fireworks display was left up to a Town Council vote during Monday’s work session, which resulted in a 4-4 tie among the eight council members that Mayor Rich Orndorff Jr. broke with his vote against holding fireworks in the town this year.
Orndorff said in a phone interview on Tuesday that his decision was based on a few factors, including concerns raised by Strasburg Police Chief Wayne Sager about enforcing what would’ve been restricted access to the town park, the launch point for the fireworks and where many residents congregate to watch the annual display.
Orndorff said the town’s Recreation, Parks and Trails Committee, after meeting last week, recommended – though not unanimously, he noted – to the Town Council that Strasburg hold its fireworks display under the condition that the park be closed to pedestrians and vehicles except for those with handicap placards or tags. Orndorff said a gray area arose when considering how the Police Department was to handle situations in which pedestrians chose to enter the park anyway, an act that would technically be trespassing.
Orndorff added that town staff felt the fireworks display was going to be a “nightmare to manage” and that the town’s insurance carrier “basically recommended against (the fireworks) because of the COVID situation and how you’re gonna maintain the appropriate social distancing to attempt to comply with the governor’s order.”
Phase Two of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia reopening plan limits social gatherings to 50 people.
“This is very difficult and this is not something that we took lightly,” said Orndorff, whose mayoral term expires at the end of the month. “For this to be one of the last votes that I have to make to break a tie, it was not something that I wanted to do and it wasn’t something that I took pleasure in. I wanted to have fireworks. I want to get back to normal, or at least some semblance of normalcy.”
Also on Monday, Strasburg’s Town Council voted 5-3 in favor of opening the town pool, which will be limited to around 20-25 people, Orndorff said, and restricted to lap swimming only under the Phase Two guidelines.
Orndorff said town residents have questioned why Town Council members felt Strasburg could open the pool but not hold a July 4 fireworks show and noted that the pool, unlike the park, can be heavily regulated as to who goes in and out of the facility.
Front Royal Clerk of Council Tina Presley, in addition to confirming that the town will not hold fireworks this year, noted that the town has received a special event permit application from the Front Royal Fire Department for its annual Fireman’s Carnival on July 8-18, though the town has not yet approved that permit as it waits for more information from the department.