Whitefish Chamber Tries to Salvage Fireworks Display

By Beacon Staff

Fireworks are important to almost any Fourth of July celebration. But in Whitefish, where thousands gather at city beach and along the shoreline for the big show each Independence Day, they’re considered absolutely essential.

Kevin Gartland, executive director of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, said it’s imperative for the city to continue its annual fireworks display at Whitefish Lake, even in the face of an uncertain fundraising outlook. The chamber is trying to raise $15,000 to put on the show.

Gartland expects most of the money to come from private donations. The chamber has already allocated $5,000 from a joint fund shared with the Stumptown Historical Society. That fund generates money from specialty license plate fees.

“It’s going to take quite a bit of money to make this thing happen and we have a really short time frame,” Gartland said. “We’re looking for contributions of any shape and size, whether it’s 20 bucks, 100 bucks or 500 bucks.”

Whitefish Shines, the nonprofit group that previously spearheaded fundraising efforts for the fireworks display, announced it would no longer be able to fund the Fourth of July show. Tough economic times have been hard on the fundraising efforts of community groups throughout the Flathead.

Now that Kalispell and Columbia Falls no longer have fireworks displays, Gartland said Whitefish’s is the only public show in the area. Last year, it cost $10,000 to put on the production. But Gartland said he wants to exceed that number to make the show more “spectacular.”

“We hope to blow the lid off that number,” Gartland said.

In addition to the July 4 show, the chamber is also hosting a benefit concert on July 2 at Grouse Mountain Lodge and a parade on July 3. A portion of proceeds from those two events will pay for fireworks. Also, Whitefish Christian Academy’s annual three-day arts and crafts festival will be held July 2-4 at Depot Park.

Gartland said that although July seems a long ways off right now, it’s actually a short time period to wrap up all of the loose ends for the celebration. The chamber needs to have a contract with a pyrotechnics company wrapped up soon. And by May 1 Gartland needs to know exactly how much money he’s working with so the chamber can order the fireworks and begin planning.

About 3,000-4,000 spectators go to city beach to watch the fireworks display, Gartland said, and another couple thousand watch from elsewhere.

“If we didn’t have (the display), we would have a really major void here in the valley in terms of the celebration of Independence Day. I can’t imagine a Fourth of July without fireworks.”

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