COVID-19 pandemic takes toll on local Fourth of July celebrations

Fireworks shows will occur, but many other events are canceled

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
A San Juan College float is towed down West Main Street during the Electric Light Parade on July 4, 2019, in downtown Farmington. This year's parade will be held on the college campus with a drive-thru format.

FARMINGTON — Many of the traditions associated with the Fourth of July in San Juan County will not take place this year because of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's public health orders restricting mass gatherings, but a handful of celebrations will occur as planned.

Two elements of Farmington's annual Freedom Days celebration are a go — the annual Electric Light Parade and the fireworks display. The fireworks display is set for approximately 9:25 p.m. on July 3 at Sullivan Hill, while the parade will take place at 9 p.m. July 4.

Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes noted the importance of the fireworks display, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Fourth of July is a critical celebration of our freedom," he said in a statement. "Our community has experienced unprecedented challengers over the past couple of months that have significantly impacted people's lives. It's more important than every to hold this traditional event for families to enjoy."

A Farmington firefighter sprays water from a ladder truck on children gathered below during the Party in the Park on July 4, 2019, at Brookside Park in Farmington. This year's Party in the Park has been canceled.

The parade has been moved from downtown Farmington, part of which is blocked off because of the Complete Streets construction, to the San Juan College campus at 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. It also will feature a different format this year because of the mass gatherings restrictions, with participants displaying their floats, tents, banners and other materials along the luminarias route while motorists drive through the "parade."

According to the event's Facebook page, drivers will enter the campus on Sunrise Parkway from Butler Avenue. They will then follow the marked route through the campus and exit at College Boulevard, where traffic will be required to turn south to East 30th Street. The route will be open from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

But the other Freedom Days events that local residents have come to enjoy won't be held this year. Tonya Stinson, executive director of the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the continued restrictions on mass gatherings in New Mexico made it impossible for events like the annual Party in the Park to be held this year. That event in Brookside Park features live music, children's activities, concessions, vendors and other activities, and attracts thousands of visitors.

The Classical String Quartet performs during "A Musical Tribute to America" on July 4, 2020, at the First Presbyterian Church in Farmington. This year's concert has been canceled.

The Freedom Days celebration also has included such events as soccer tournaments, beach volleyball tournaments, and a gem and mineral show.

Stinson said she was disappointed about having to cancel those events this year, but she was looking forward to the fireworks show and what she called the "reimagined" parade.

"They'll be great, but everything else this year, unfortunately, will not happen," she said.

Also falling victim to the mass gathering restrictions this year will be the annual "Musical Tribute to America" concert at the First Presbyterian Church in Farmington. The concert is part of the Showcase on Dustin series and each year features performances of tunes by some of America's better-known composers by a variety of local musicians.

Organizer Mick Hesse noted the event has proven extremely popular in the past and is likely to be missed this year.

"That concert has always been 100% full," he said. "In fact, we've had people standing in the balcony."

At least one other local holiday tradition will not be sidetracked by the virus. Tommy Bolack, organizer and financier of San Juan County's largest annual fireworks display, said his show will go on as planned at dusk on July 4 from the bluffs south of Farmington.

"I'm working on my show right now," he said June 2, confirming his plans to move forward with the event.

Bolack said he believes local residents might appreciate the show this year more than they have in the past, given the trials and tribulations of the recent past.

"I think most of us have thought more about our freedoms in the last two or three months than we have in a long time," he said.

A march band takes part in the annual Electric Light Parade on July 4, 2019, in downtown Farmington.

Elsewhere in San Juan County, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the city of Bloomfield to alter its plans for a holiday celebration this year.

"We won't be doing fireworks this year for a lot of reason," City Manager George Duncan said, citing social distancing concerns and a lack of funding for the decision.

Duncan said the decision was made at the most recent meeting of the Bloomfield City Council.

"We regret it because the feedback we get is that people love the show," he said. "It's something that is seen by thousands and thousands of people."

Even without fireworks, Duncan said he is holding out hope that Bloomfield will be able to stage some kind of holiday celebration this year that can take place in spite of the social distancing requirements.

"We haven't made other plans, but I'm certain we will," he said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.