Garla Rowe hopes to see the dark sky over Haines blossom into a palette of bright colors on the Fourth of July.
But even if the annual Independence Day fireworks show illuminates the town of about 415, the holiday will lack some of its usual luster.
Rowe, who’s secretary/treasurer for the Friends of Haines, said the group decided earlier this week to cancel the parade, arts in the park, barbecue, music and other parts of the town’s annual celebration.
Rowe said it seems unlikely that the organization could ensure compliance with social distancing as hundreds of people congregate in the town about 11 miles north of Baker City.
And at this point there’s no guarantee the city could even obtain a parade permit from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
That’s required because the parade takes place on Front Street, which is also Highway 30.
Haines City Recorder Valerie Russell said she checked with ODOT officials Monday, and she was told the agency is not issuing permits for parades on state highways now.
Rowe said that although she’s disappointed about the cancellation of the parade and other events, she remains optimistic about the potential for the holiday’s crowd-pleasing culmination.
The fireworks display is different from the parade and other events in that many spectators watch from their cars, she said.
“If we can get the fireworks up in the air I think it would be a huge uplift for the community of Haines and the people of Baker City,” Rowe said on Tuesday. “Our energy is going to be focused on the fireworks.”
The other big draw in Haines during the Fourth of July is the two-day Haines Stampede rodeo.
As of Tuesday, rodeo organizers were still preparing for the event, set for July 3 and 4, according to a post on the Haines Stampede’s Facebook page.
“We are working with the County to see if we can comply with the reopening requirements,” the post reads in part.
Colleen Taylor, a member of Haines Stampede & Rodeo Association Inc., said the organization had no further comment.
Baker County Commissioner Mark Bennett said he talked with Taylor on Monday about the possibility of putting on the rodeo.
Whether that’s possible depends largely on factors that simply can’t be predicted today, almost two months before the holiday, Bennett said.
“I know people like dates, but we really just don’t know at this point,” Bennett said.
A key issue is when Oregon Gov. Kate Brown approves Baker County’s reopening plan, which county officials sent to the governor’s office on April 24 and revised earlier this week.
Brown has previously set May 15 as a date for potentially allowing counties such as Baker, with few confirmed cases of coronavirus, to begin reopening.
The governor announced Tuesday that daytime use of some state parks would resume Wednesday. The list didn’t include Sumpter Valley Dredge State Heritage Area, or Unity or Farewell Bend state parks in Baker County.
Brown said day use could begin at some other parks starting next week.
Baker County’s plan has three phases, and calls for advancing from one phase to the next within two weeks presuming there is not a rash of local cases or a large outbreak elsewhere.
Bennett said that if the county reaches the third phase of its plan, an event such as the Haines Stampede could possibly happen, although likely with some level of social distancing or other precautions.
All other things being equal, the later in the summer the event the more likely the county will reach the third phase of its reopening plan, Bennett said.
He said county officials have had frequent discussions about the Baker County Fair, set for the first week of August.
If Brown OKs the county’s plan around May 15, it’s quite possible that the Fair could happen on schedule, Bennett said.
There could be financial challenges, however.
The Oregon Lottery, which supplies revenue to several county departments, has seen cuts of about $20 million per week from video lottery, which has all but ended with the closure of bars since March 17.
About one-third of the Baker County Fair Board’s annual revenue — $55,000 — comes from video lottery revenue.
Bennett said he’s also concerned that sponsors and other contributors to the Fair won’t be able to help as much as usual this year because they’ve suffered economic losses from the pandemic.
Bennett said he understands that organizers of some events have to decide well in advance whether to go ahead, while others have the flexibility to decide not long before.
He said the county is looking at assigning someone to serve as a coordinator helping event organizers with their planning.
“Our goal is to have all of these events going,” Bennett said.
Some have already been canceled, including the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally in July, and the East-West Shrine All-Star Football Game scheduled for Aug. 1.
Shelly Cutler, executive director of the Baker County Chamber of Commerce, said the Miners Jubilee is still being planned for July 17-19, and the new organizer of the Baker City Bronc and Bull Riding events said those rodeo competitions are also still slated for July 17 and 18.
Bennett said he understands that regardless of which events happen as planned, attendance could be down as people remain leery of being in large groups.
He said the county’s goal with its plan is to be in a position where individuals can choose the types of events they want to attend, rather than being precluded, by government orders, from attending any type of gathering.
Bennett noted that the county’s plan, even as it eases restrictions on businesses and events, calls for encouraging people to follow social distancing guidelines when possible and to use proper sanitation in all situations.
“We believe our plan both protects people and is aggressively moving us forward,” he said.