Fireworks out, summer concert in at Port of Camas-Washougal

Port canceled its annual Fourth of July event due to overcrowding; will host Stone in Love band July 26

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Fireworks explode over the Columbia River at Marina Park in Washougal on Monday, July 4, 2022. (Post-Record files)

The Port of Camas-Washougal is resurrecting an old event to replace its annual Fourth of July fireworks celebration.

The Port will hold a summer concert from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, July 26, at Marina Park, featuring Stone in Love, a Portland-based Journey tribute band, and a variety of food vendors.

“The summer concerts, they’re actually not new,” said Amie Bittle, the Port’s events coordinator. “We used to have them, two or three in a summer along with the Fourth of July celebration.”

In July 2023, Port leaders announced that they would not put on their traditional Fourth of July celebration in 2024, citing safety and logistics concerns.

At the 2023 event, heavy traffic waylaid the attempts of emergency medical technicians to respond to a woman who had suffered a seizure; the large crowd slowed Port employees’ efforts to assist a boater stranded on the Columbia River; and a driver high-centered their vehicle on a large rock after attempting to take a shortcut through the parking lot at the end of the show, according to Port Chief Executive Officer David Ripp.

But the annual fireworks show was a big event for the Port, Bittle said, and Port leaders still wanted to have a community event in the summertime, so they resurrected the summer concert.

Port employees estimate that between 7,000 and 8,000 people attended the 2023 Fourth of July fireworks event. Ripp said last year’s Fourth of July crowd did not fit into the Port’s parking area and overwhelmed the 20 Port and city of Washougal employees and 15 local Boy Scouts who were working at the event.

“It’s unfortunate that the Fourth of July (event) is not happening,” Bittle said, “but it got too big, the community got too big, for the safety of our staff, and people were upset with the parking.”

The Port does not anticipate similar problems with its summer concert, Bittle said.

“I think it will draw a crowd just because of the band that we do have coming, but it is definitely going to be smaller in scale for sure,” Bittle said. “There’s only one band instead of two, and not as many food vendors — maybe four or five versus 13 (at the 2023 Fourth of July event).”

She added that the summer concert planned for July 2024 is a two-hour event, whereas the Fourth of July celebration went on for much of the day and night — and, Bittle said, the fireworks likely drew at least half of the people who showed up for the Port’s July Fourth events in the past.

Port staff hope the concert crowd will be right-sized for the Port’s parking lot, which regularly drew criticism following the annual Fourth of July celebrations, when visitors often waited in traffic jams that could take more than an hour to clear.

“When everybody tries to leave an event at the same time, and they can’t get out quickly, they get angry and mean, and you end up with people fighting,” Port Finance Director Krista Caple said in July 2023. “We don’t want that on our property.”

Port leaders said they likely would have been facing an even more challenging parking scenario in 2024, due to the nearby Hyas Point mixed-use development, which is scheduled to break ground later this year on the Port’s makeshift event parking lot.

“Our team will be moving dirt late spring,” Bittle said, “and we are not 100 percent sure when (Hyas Point) will be breaking ground.”