Fourth of July Parade MAIN

Volunteers with the Veterans of Foreign Wars carry the American flag during the 2019 Fourth of July parade in Idaho Falls.

IDAHO FALLS — An annual Fourth of July tradition won’t happen this year.

“Liberty on Parade,” the yearly Independence Day parade up South Boulevard in Idaho Falls, has been canceled, the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday. The chamber said it is canceling it “after careful consideration and out of an abundance of concern for the health and safety of our community,” due to the possibility of spreading coronavirus at such a large gathering.

“With close to 100,000 people lining the streets of Idaho Falls for last year’s parade, the risk of a potential large-scale transmission of the virus at an event of this size is too big a risk to take,” said chamber CEO Chip Schwarze. “It is never easy to break a lifelong community tradition, but with the support of our community, Liberty on Parade will return next year.”

Schwarze said the chamber’s Board of Directors consulted with Eastern Idaho Public Health before making the decision. It also referenced Gov. Brad Little’s Rebound Idaho plan, which sets guidelines for when different types of businesses can reopen and when gatherings of various sizes can take place. Little’s plan goes until the end of June, and even at that point it still says people shouldn’t gather in groups larger than 50.

Another major Idaho Falls July 4 tradition is Riverfest and the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration, a July 4 celebration at Snake River Landing followed by a large fireworks show. Melaleuca CEO Frank VanderSloot said he expects to know soon whether these will move forward.

“We know that people are anxious to know about the Melaleuca Freedom Celebration,” VanderSloot said in an email. “We know that people are making plans for that week. We are reviewing our options. We’re seven to 10 days away from making a final decision.”

The chamber has been working on planning the parade since January, and around now is when groups in the parade would start to build their floats. Schwarze said people would have to violate social distancing guidelines to do this, as would the 90,000 to 100,000 people who line the streets for the parade every year.

“Social distancing would not happen, and we just felt it would be irresponsible for us to go forward and have the parade and to put the public at risk like that,” Schwarze said. “We don’t know enough about where we’re going to be in eight weeks. This was not an easy decision. We’ve been discussing it for over a month now.”

Schwarze said this is the first time he is aware of that the decades-old parade has been canceled.

Catherine Smith, executive director of the Idaho Falls Downtown Development Corporation and a nonvoting member of the chamber board, said that while she is disappointed the parade won’t happen, the board unanimously agreed it had to be done.

“It’s definitely a disappointing thing, but I am proud that the Board of Directors are looking at the safety and … the governor’s recommendations of gathering size with making these really difficult decisions,” she said. “But I think with any of these large public gatherings, businesses do well with folks who are out and about, so it’s going to hurt all of us.”

Smith said she hopes people still come downtown to celebrate July 4, which will be on a Saturday this year.

“I hope people will find a different way to celebrate without a parade,” she said.

The parade’s theme would have been “2020 Vision: O Say Can You See.”

The chamber will refund entry fees that have already been submitted.

The parade isn’t the only iconic Idaho Falls event to be impacted by coronavirus cancellations and concerns about the ability to effectively socially distance at large events. The War Bonnet Roundup, 108 years old and Idaho’s oldest rodeo, has also been canceled this year, said Idaho Falls city spokesman Bud Cranor. Cranor said city Parks and Recreation Director P.J. Holm made the decision after meeting with the War Bonnet Committee and considering Little’s order, social distancing and sanitizing at the rodeo and concerns about sponsorships. The rodeo normally takes place in early August.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.