JOSEPH — The on-again-off-again fireworks over Wallowa Lake is officially on again, said Gary Bethscheider, of Joseph, who is spearheading the effort.
“I don’t think we should be shutting down our whole lives,” Bethscheider said, referring to the COVID-19-related shutdowns. “We should be able to celebrate the Fourth of July like it should be celebrated, and do it safely.”
The fireworks show is scheduled to take place over the north end of lake at 10 p.m. on Independence Day.
“This is about our patriotic rights and celebrating Fourth of July,” Bethscheider said.
The annual “Shake the Lake” fireworks show usually put on by the Wallowa County Chamber of Commerce with assistance from the Wallowa County Commission was canceled in early June. Then, Mike Lockhart and the Wallowa Lake Tourism Association took up the mantle until a massive mid-June surge in coronavirus cases in nearby Union County and a corresponding rise in Wallowa County cases to eight. Lockhart told the commissioners June 17 his efforts were on hold. On June 22, he told the Chieftain the association was abandoning the effort.
But Bethscheider and others — including the Joseph Chamber of Commerce — are not giving up. The next day — too late for publication in the June 24 Chieftain — he said the show would go on.
“The fireworks are on. It’s happening,” he said.
Bethscheider said they only need another $2,500 in donations to be able to foot the bill for the show. Previous years’ shows have cost the Wallowa County Chamber about $14,000 for a 25-minute show. This year, Bethscheider said he’s trying to raise about $12,500.
“If we do raise that, the show will be better than we’ve ever had,” he said.
Nicole Brookshire, an employee of Bethscheider’s, posted on Facebook on Tuesday, June 23, that donations can be brought to the Stubborn Mule in Joseph or to the Joseph Chamber. They should be made out to the chamber, her post said.
“The beaches will surely not be empty July 4, the streets will not be empty, the shops, the restaurants, or grocery stores,” Brookshire’s post stated.
Brookshire and Bethscheider both urged those viewing the show to keep safe, since the risk of the spread of coronavirus was a major factor in previous cancellations of the show.
“We want to encourage everyone to be safe and follow social distancing protocols and other guidelines recommended by our health care professionals,” Bethscheider said in a press release. “This celebration can be shared responsibly from a boat, a car, a front yard, a park or just about any other vantage point people have enjoyed it from over the years. This is a tradition that needs to continue, and I truly believe it can be done safely.”
He said gathering for the fireworks show is not unlike other gatherings that have taken place during the pandemic.
“Right now, there are people choosing to protest across the nation for the sake of equality, in large groups, I might add,” he said. “July 4 celebrates what this country was founded on, which is our freedom. Our freedom of choice means that you can choose to come enjoy the fireworks show, or you can choose not to. It’s that simple.”
“Just as we encourage in each of these places, please practice social distancing when necessary, wear a mask if you’d like, don’t come if you’re not comfortable,” Brookshire posted. “It is up to each and every individual to think for themselves and practice what makes them comfortable. Please be respectful of others around you. Let’s celebrate what this country is all about, and that is the freedom to choose.”