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Fort Dalles fireworks group adds allies

Let’s set the scene: It’s the Fourth of July. All across the nation, days-long celebrations have been building up to culminate in one last event, the grand finale to end the holiday celebrations on a high note and wow the crowds before everyone heads home.

Like many other cities, The Dalles used to put on such a display. However, the traditional fireworks shows stalled 27 years ago, and people have since learned to look elsewhere for their Fourth of July entertainment. According to Doug Kirchhofer, financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual, it’s a prime time to not only “bring back fireworks with a vengeance,” but “reawaken” Fourth of July celebrations in The Dalles. Kirchhofer and other members of the “Fort Dalles Fourth” ad hoc initiative operating under the nonprofit Mid-Columbia Veterans Memorial Committee met with representatives of local government and nonprofit organizations Oct. 22 to discuss their plans.

“In the past, it’s been a time where everyone in town disperses and The Dalles suddenly turns into a ghost town… We want to change that.”

Aligned with the 501(c)(3) Veterans Memorial Committee, Kirchhofer and his team intend to craft a full day’s worth of events, characterized by “nostalgia, veteran recognition and patriotic feeling.”

Kirchhofer, along with project developer Melissa Lee and entertainment coordinator Nolan Hare, aims to “create a positive impact on the community” by revitalizing the old tradition in new ways. They call their proposed plans ones which could potentially put The Dalles “back on the map” in terms of other events in the region.

As far as the initial plans go, day-time activities will include an organized parade honoring veterans, a family-oriented games and event fair and a riverfront “fun run” sponsored by local businesses. Festival-grade performances, complete with professionally executed sound and lighting would follow at around 6 p.m., featuring artists such as well-known blues musician Kevin Selfe, Columbia Gorge pop-rock band Sunderland, 1930’s swing-jazz fusion group Stolen Sweets, local country band Brewer’s Grade and versatile comedian Alex Zerbe.

As for the grand finale, Kirchhofer has commissioned Western Display Fireworks, a family-owned organization based in Canby, to coordinate the main event.

“The area around The Dalles creates a natural amphitheater,” said Heather Gobet, marketing director of the over 60 year-old company. “When it comes to [this venue], the sky really is the limit.”

Western Display is the same company that provides Hood River the aerial materials used in their Fourth of July fireworks show. According to Gobet, their display features aerial shells both 5 and 6-inches in diameter, which reach about 400 feet in the air and fan about 600 feet wide. The shells they intend using for the display in The Dalles measure up to 10 inches and are expected to reach 1,000 feet with a fanning radius of about 1,200 feet. In other words, the same size commonly used at much larger events like the Portland Blues Festival and Seattle’s own Fourth of July celebration.

In a demonstration video provided by Western Display, Kirchhofer remarked how fireworks of this size seem to “dwarf” even the sprawling Seattle skyline.

“So you can only imagine what it will look like over The Dalles,” he said. “We want this to be head and shoulders above what people are used to seeing in the area… We want to bring it to its fullest potential.”

That potential, according to Gobet, is that it’s shaping up to be “one of the largest displays in the Pacific Northwest” and is already being designed to “stand out as a really spectacular event.”

Shells will be launched from a barge in order to achieve optimal viewing and will be grouped to compliment a musical program specially choreographed by Western Display, a program which is projected to last about 16 to 18 minutes in total.

In response to concerns regarding safety and potential fire hazards, Gobet says that with about 2,500 square feet of the Columbia river to work with, all remnants of the display should fall well within the parameters of the water.

Divided up by event, the professionally coordinated fireworks barge display has a price tag of around $35,000, while the day-time community festivities are estimated to cost about $18,000 and regional promotion around $7,000. All together, the entire Fort Dalles Fourth of July celebration as it exists in the current planning stages has a $60,000 price tag.

However, 40 percent of this grand total is projected to come from individual or non-profit donations, with about five businesses or sponsors providing an additional 30 percent and the remaining 30 percent obtained from municipal sources. An important thing to note, however, is that since the event is a being coordinated under the banner of the non-profit 501(c)(3), Mid-Columbia Veterans Memorial Committee, all donations are tax-deductible.

Kirchhofer reported that an anonymous member of the community has already offered that for every $1,500 raised by the committee, he or she will donate $7,500. Broken down, the committee needs to raise $15,000 from independent or non-profit donors in order to reach their $24,000 (or 40 percent of the $60,000 grand total) funding goal.

“Lastly,” he added, “we are seeking cooperation from the Chamber and the City (for one year only) to bridge us the final $18,000. In future years, we have corporate grant programs and event revenue to help.”

Taking place about two weeks before the Fort Dalles Days celebrations commence, Kirchhofer hopes that “it will be a great kick-off” to the area’s regular summer activities. Although the initial planning stages of the event are well under way, Kirchhofer said that all the “yes’s and no’s” to his proposal, which will “reach out to individuals, non-profits, businesses, the Chamber and the city,” should be in by the end of January.

The Fort Dalles Fourth committee is currently accepting donations as well as any available volunteers willing to help facilitate the event. For more information on how to get involved, email the committee at or message them on Facebook at “Fort Dalles Fourth.”


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