Tigard’s Fourth of July event will be traditional but also ‘trendsetting’

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On July 4, 2024, the City of Tigard is going high-tech, replacing the fireworks with a drone show.
On July 4, 2024, the City of Tigard is going high-tech, replacing the fireworks with a drone show.
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Tigard’s Fourth of July fireworks display last year was the end of a decades-long tradition, but no one knew it at the time.

This year the City of Tigard is going high-tech, replacing the fireworks with a drone show, although all the other elements that families enjoy will remain: face-painting, balloon animals, kids’ games, sack races, a tattoo artist, characters interacting with the crowd, food and drinks available for purchase, emergency vehicles, and a performance by the Tualatin Valley Community Band. Also, Ron Royse, who has been the master of ceremonies at the event for 36-years plus, will be on the job one last time.

But the origin of the fireworks display goes back 54 years to 1970, when Joe Chamberlain started setting off fireworks for his family and a few friends on “Chamberlain Lake” next to his home off Walnut Street near 121st Avenue. (tigardlife.com/chamberlain)Every year drew a bigger crowd, until after 15 years it became too big for the small neighborhood and had to move. Joe encountered (former Tigard Mayor) Tom Brian and asked about moving the fireworks show to Tigard High School, an idea that Brian enthusiastically endorsed.

A committee of about 15 people, including Royse, was formed to organize the event. Joe’s son, John Chamberlain, took over setting off fireworks from his dad and got his pyrotechnics license. In 1986, the first Tigard Old-Fashioned Fourth of July event was held at THS.

And now a new tradition is starting. “The July Fourth celebration is a group effort this year,” said Kent Wyatt, the city’s communication manager. “My team is working on the drone show, and Ron Royse is showing us the ropes on the overall event.”

The change from fireworks to drones was due in part to community feedback, according to Wyatt. “It was a combination of noise, light pollution and environmental issues with the drier climate,” he said. “Why risk it? That caused the City Council to look into what others are doing. Other cities are switching to drone light shows. The show will last about the same amount of time (as the fireworks), and it will be Tigard-specific and contain elements from Tigard. This past week we just finalized the storyboard and music, and we are excited it.

“Folks who have attended the event for years might have concerns about if they will be able to see the show. But the city will provide a map on its website where you can see the drone show. People don’t know what to expect, but they can go to our website and see videos of drone shows in other cities.”

Wyatt called the drone show “very trendsetting,” and added, “We’re in a transition year. Ron Royse ran the show, and it is amazing what he did with so few resources and staff.”

For his part, Royse said, “I’ll be doing what I’ve been doing, but I guess I can’t put up my signs calling it ‘the old-fashioned Fourth of July’ show. It’s far from old-fashioned now. The real change is that there are no fireworks, but otherwise, I think it will be pretty much business as usual.

“There are no gates to begin with, but the gates ‘open’ at 6, although some people show up at 3. All the activities will go on, with the sack races at 7, the band at 8 and dancing at 9 with the whole crowd. It’s pretty amazing to see what’s going on. I think the drone show will start about 9:45 to 10. I always had to wait for John to decide it was dark enough (to set off the fireworks).

“I think the event is in very good hands, and I want the show to go on and be successful. My favorite part of doing the show was when I would look out when the fireworks lit up the crowd and see them clapping and cheering – I will miss that.”

The city signed an $80,000 contract with Sky Elements Drone Shows based in North Richland Hills, Texas, to do the show, and Wyatt said the funds are coming from the city’s transit lodging tax, which is used to attract visitors. Wyatt said the city wants feedback from the community after the July Fourth event, where people will find a QR code to scan to answer questions so the city can improve the drone show.

“I encourage people to come since this is Ron’s last year and say thank you to him and tell him they appreciate him,” he added.

On May 10 at the Tigard Chamber of Commerce’s 50th annual Shining Stars Community Awards presentation, Royse and John Chamberlain were the recipients of the 2024 Tigard “From the Heart” Award. The award specifically called out their outstanding work as “hosts, master of ceremonies and firework launchers for the past 36 years at the Tigard Old-Fashioned 4th of July held annually at Tigard High School and Cook Park.”

“It was so nice to be given that award by Tom Brian,” Royse said. “It was so cool to receive it from Tom since he was involved with moving the Fourth of July event to THS so long ago. But I’m a one-event-a-year person. The others volunteer all year long.”

For more information on the Fourth of July event, visit tinyurl.com/3jevferk.

Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration 

Location: The Tigard High School football field and adjacent field are the best areas to view the drone sky show and hear the accompanying music. 

Date: Thursday, July 4, 2024

Time: Gates officially open at 6 p.m. Drone show begins at dark (approximately 9:30 to 10 p.m.)

Tips: Bring a picnic dinner and hang out at the Tigard High School fields. Food & drinks will be available for purchase. Bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit on. Arrive early to get a good spot. Admission is free.

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