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  • Jordan D. Smith

4th of July Celebrations Get Wet but Not Washed Up!

The past year has brought many changes to long standing traditions. While many traditions have changed due to the effects of COVID-19, some have also changed due to shifting community priorities and participation. With the dissolving of the Portland Chamber of Commerce in late 2019, the planning of the annual Independence Day celebrations fell apart due to lack of organizational leadership. That change intersected with COVID-19 last year when the fireworks which had already been paid for by the Chamber were cancelled due to epidemic restrictions on gatherings in place this time last year. This year, the fireworks are on for July 3rd at dusk, courtesy of the late Portland Chamber of Commerce. At this time there are no plans for fireworks in Portland in 2022 or beyond due to the steep cost and lack of an organization to head up the effort.

This year, an informal group of downtown business owners gathered by Opera Block owner Tim Fuller tried to resurrect the 4th of July parade only to be met with little interest. According to Fuller, even after repeatedly calling every single business and non-profit in town several times, only eight were interested in entering a float or vehicle in the parade. Faced with the prospect of a mediocre parade the group decided to cancel the traditional street parade in favor of trying something a bit different.

In place of the traditional street parade, downtown business leaders are organizing a “river parade” of kayaks, canoes, inner tubes, and flat bottomed boats. Any individual, business or organization is invited to participate. All you have to do is show up July 3rd about 8:30 at the Thompson Field canoe launch. Participants are encouraged to decorate their boats or wear costumes in celebration of the holiday. The route will end at the Bogue Flats where participants can watch the fireworks from the water or pull up on shore. Spectators can watch the parade of boats along the Portland River Trail, the boardwalk or any of the Grand River bridges.

The decision to change this long standing tradition has not been without criticism, but Fuller, speaking for the organizing committee, said that a number of factors entered into the calculations. A major consideration in canceling the street parade a month in advance was showing consideration for city employees in the DPW, and emergency services who have to work on the holiday weekend for a street parade but who may now be allowed to enjoy a much deserved break. In moving the parade from the downtown streets to the river, Fuller said the hope is that instead of coming downtown, snarling traffic with closed off streets for the parade and then leaving, spectators will come and stay a while enjoying the downtown and visiting a local bar or restaurant. The unique idea for a river parade has already gathered attention from other communities across mid-Michigan bringing with it the possibility of local tourists.

Besides the low interest in participants in the parade, the water parade opens up participation to include pretty much any one with a suitable watercraft. In addition to broadening the participation, moving the event to the water draws more attention to Portland’s alternate moniker the “City of Two Rivers.” That last reason also factors into plans in the works for another exciting river focused event in August. Details on this event have not been released yet, but it is sure to be a wet and wild time. For more information check out the river parade page on Facebook.

PHOTO: Courtesy Tim Fuller


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