LAVA HOT SPRINGS — Mayor Jon Thomson predicts more than 5,000 people will pack a six-block area of this small resort town for its forthcoming Independence Day celebration.
Summer weekends always bustle in Lava Hot Springs. On a holiday weekend amid a health pandemic that’s led Pocatello and some other surrounding communities to cancel their usual July 4 plans, Thomson understands his town’s festivities will represent a greater regional draw than normal.
Maintaining social distancing for the public will be problematic, but Thomson believes his community is up to the task of keeping its visitors safe from COVID-19.
“We felt we’ve done most of what we can do as a city to ensure everybody’s safety,” Thomson said. “It’s kind of hard to handle numbers in a small, confined area.”
Thomson said his city has planned the event in conjunction with Southeastern Idaho Public Health and other area officials. He’s hired extra staff to regularly sanitize trash bins and portable toilets throughout the day. He’s doubled the usual weekend Bannock County Sheriff’s Office presence for traffic control.
Thomson believes the public has coped with too many event cancellations — including fairs and athletic events — and he’s eager for his community to deliver a patriotic weekend. He also emphasized that the city’s plans will comply with stage four of Gov. Brad Little’s plan to safely reopen the state amid the pandemic.
Idaho’s list of confirmed COVID-19 cases, however, has been steadily increasing since mid-June.
“We’ve had about enough COVID!” Thomson said. “I think it’s time we did something. It may be the wrong call, but for now I’m standing by it.”
He said the city is encouraging visitors to wear masks, if doing so makes them feel more comfortable, and to maintain social distancing to the extent possible.
Lava Hot Springs does not have a July 4 parade, but visitors typically rent tubes to float the Portneuf River, visit the local boutiques and restaurants, soak in the city’s famous hot pools or swim at the Lava Hot Springs Olympic Swimming Complex.
“It’s kind of a big deal this year because it’s on a Saturday for a change, and that makes it a three-day holiday for most folks,” Thomson said.
The city has pushed back its usual July 24 Pioneer Day parade and hopes to host it in September.
The fireworks show will start at about 10 p.m. July 4. The fireworks will be launched from the top of a bluff on the north side of the downtown area known in Lava Hot Springs as Fireworks Mountain. Thomson explained launching them from up high elevates the explosions and makes the display more impressive.
Thomson said the fireworks were ordered several months ago, and rumors that the city has purchased extra fireworks from other communities that canceled shows are unfounded. He said the show will last the typical length — 35 minutes to 45 minutes — with fireworks in the air at all times throughout the display.
He said recent rains have made the landscape green and lush, and there are no current fire restrictions.
“I think we’re set for a great weekend,” Thomson said. “Hopefully everyone will come out and enjoy it and be safe.”