- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

So much for the rockets’ red glare, not to mention the cadence of the town band or the parade of high-stepping locals.

The recession has hit the Fourth of July.

From sea to shining sea, communities have either curtailed or canceled their star-spangled plans for the holiday because of budget woes. Among the many: Vineland, N.J.; Shawnee, Kan.; Colorado Springs; Reno, Nev.; Plymouth, Mass.; Cape Coral, Fla.; Madison Heights, Mich.; and Monterey, Calif.

“We were just shocked when the city canceled our July Fourth parade. Our jaws just hit the ground. There was a huge public outcry, because this is our town’s centennial,” said Bob Caudle of Roseville, another California city that was forced to tone down its celebratory fervor for financial reasons.

Vexed that local officials still approved a pricey float for the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year’s Day, Mr. Caudle has gone proactive.

“You bet I did. We asked the city how much they needed for the parade, which is about $10,000. We organized a private ‘save the parade’ fund. We’ve got a little table set up for donations down the street,” he said. “And the way things look right now, we’re going to hit our mark.”

Families, businesses, friends and even sympathetic folks from out of state have contributed small amounts and large sentiments.

“Who doesn’t love a parade? We got money from Seattle. Locally, people fondly remember this parade from their past. They’re not going to let it go, and they think it’s just crazy this happened,” said Mr. Caudle, a local events planner.

Indeed, Americans are loath to give up their July Fourth celebrations. Some locales are simply forgoing the big-ticket items for simple events with a down-home touch — public picnics, dog parades, house-decorating contests, flea markets, art displays, bike races, public oratory.

Some are returning to the heartfelt roots of the holiday.

Glenwood Springs, Colo., has organized an “America the Beautiful” poetry and essay contest for its festivities, the winning entries to be read during a musical program. Pottstown, Pa., will stud a field with American flags to honor local police, fire and military personnel. Braintree, Mass., will showcase World War II re-enactors in authentic uniforms at the local parade.

But no one should fret about cutbacks in Washington; the nation’s capital will celebrate as much as ever.

“Things get under way July 3 on the National Mall, actually. Two concerts, parade, Folklife Festival, fireworks. Nothing has changed for the ‘Capitol Fourth’ celebration,” said National Park Service spokesman Christopher Watts.

Public celebrations are tricky business for local officials facing cutbacks in town budgets. Most municipalities must foot the bill for pyrotechnics or live music — along with police and emergency overtime, and cleanup, as well as dull but necessary factors such as liability insurance.

Colorado Springs will go without its own official celebration, but plans to combine resources with nearby Fort Carson on July 3, said city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg.

Fireworks plans almost fizzled in Bennington, a picturesque little spot in the verdant mountains of southwestern Vermont. Money for the display of booms and sparkles disappeared after cuts were made in the town’s discretionary spending two months ago; in 2008, the cost was $12,000. A local fundraising effort initially proved a dud.

But somewhere, a fuse was still lit.

“I am happy to report that a corporate sponsor and one very generous private citizen have stepped up to the plate, and we now believe we can cover the fireworks,” said Larry McLeod, a spokesman for the town clerk’s office.

“I think people are going to be pretty pleased about this,” he added.

Sometimes the travails of canceled plans don’t turn out to be negative, however.

Such was the case with the Bay-Atlantic Symphony Orchestra, which was cut from the holiday program in a New Jersey coastal town after 12 years. The partnership was over between Vineland and the orchestra that traditionally introduced the town’s fireworks with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

“We do a great concert. We call it the ‘music of freedom’ - slam-bang John Philip Sousa ‘Finlandia,’ the ‘Overture,’ of course. But it looks like we’re just going to take the Fourth off this year,” said symphony director Paul D. Herron.

“It’s been tough this year. But like the Kennedy Center, we believe that arts organizations should not pull back in times of trouble. So we’re expanding. We’re going to be playing one of the casinos in Atlantic City and be the resident symphony for Rowan University. We’ll be playing in Cape May and Avalon. So we’re not a poor little orchestra,” Mr. Herron said.

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