Since 2004, HDR has been honored to produce Harrisonburg’s Independence Day celebration with the support and assistance of countless community members, city department staff, and sponsors.
This event, which has changed over the years, has featured a variety of different activities that continue to improve each year. This year is no different! A full and vibrant celebration is still on with new and exciting features added to the line-up, including a morning run with a fun water slide finish, a $250,000 giveaway, and a revamped fireworks show that will delight everyone with a better display than we have ever been able to offer.
HDR’s staff, volunteers, and partners have worked hard to deliver a well-planned free event to the community. We have activities and entertainment from 7 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. These include a fitness class with Breathe, Valley Fourth RUN, farmers market, reading of the Declaration of Independence, three showings of Shrek, the Friendly City Fortune raffle drawing, a Classic Car Cruise-in, two concerts, craft beverages, a downtown retail and art market, great food options, and a ton of kids’ activities.
I am tremendously proud of everything that HDR staff and volunteers have packed into July 4th, but I understand that some people are curious about the factors that lead to our decision to not include a parade.
After Valley Fourth 2016, staff, board members, and volunteers assessed the quality of our programming as well as our human and financial resources for the event. We determined:
- Construction planned on North Main Street would present a logistical challenge in 2017. Even though the construction was postponed, we start planning our events almost a year in advance and took this into consideration.
- Overall parade participation and entertainment is lacking and we have been criticized for this in the past. Marching bands and musicians are not readily available on this holiday as schools are out of session and many families are out of town. Groups that are available either have long-standing commitments with other community parades or they must be paid. Given the short duration of the parade, paying for entertainment doesn’t make financial sense. Instead, we have expanded our entertainment options in other areas of the festival.
- The countless hours it takes to recruit entrants, secure applications, plan street closures with three city departments, recruit day-of volunteers, and plan and communicate the parade order with participants takes a considerable amount of time in the months leading to July 4th. The parade is both time- and resource-intensive and it is all for an activity that lasts 20-25 minutes.
- We have found creative ways to integrate many of the parade participants into the festival. Attendees can visit the touch-a-truck with the Harrisonburg Fire Department. The antique cars that usually make up a considerable amount of the parade will be on display at the cruise-in at the Turner Pavilion and organizations will have booths at the event. All of these activities will allow you to have a more engaging experience with them than when they simply pass briefly in front of you.
- Closing the streets comes at a high cost to Harrisonburg Public Works and Police Department. The number of city employees required to support the parade is considerable, and they are paid overtime rates as they have to secure the streets. Now, first responders have an opportunity to spend the holiday with their families.
- Key to our mission at HDR is to support local merchants and economic activity downtown. When we surveyed downtown businesses last year, most overwhelmingly communicated the hardship that street closures present to their bottom line While the parade brought lots of people to the downtown district, the street closing largely depressed sales in stores and restaurants because people came only to watch the parade and did not patronize the businesses.
The bottom line is: HDR is a nonprofit organization and we must make informed and strategic business decisions. Planning a parade is not the best use of our resources; we can channel our efforts toward bringing better programming to more people over a longer period of time. We have planned a better Valley Fourth event that realistically aligns with our financial and human resources and offers better entertainment for an ever-improving event.
We will continue to review our capacity and programming for all of our initiatives, activities, and events. We will continue to strive to do the best we can to strengthen downtown as a destination for residents and visitors and to support our business community. We appreciate your support as we continue to adjust and improve and make downtown the place we all want it to be.
Join us at Valley Fourth and help us paint the town red, white, and blue!