By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Each Fourth of July, Big Sky celebrates with live music and a crowd of company under a sky lit up by fireworks. This year, with COVID-19 cases spiking once again in Gallatin County following the state’s phased reopening, many community event organizers have opted for safety over tradition for the red, white and blue holiday. Tradition aside, however, local efforts might be the greatest display of American appreciation yet.
The Arts Council of Big Sky, which typically hosts live music and puts on a firework show, felt it irresponsible to put on any display that would encourage the gathering of large groups of spectators.
“Obviously July 4 is a big deal in Big Sky and the Arts Council has been the organization that has sort of hosted the party for the last 15-20 years, so it was something we didn’t take lightly,” said Brian Hurlbut, executive director of the Arts Council of Big Sky. “But at the same time, the priority was…the health and safety of the community.”
Despite the absence of colorful explosives lighting up Big Sky, Hurlbut believes there iare other values of America’s celebrated independence to be acknowledged.
“I guess we kind of thought that fireworks are just fireworks, and I know a lot of people like them, but I guess to us that’s not what being American [is] or American stands for,” Hurlbut said. “It’s more American to take the high road and feel safe in your own community and try to bring people together in other ways or let them celebrate in the way that they choose.”
While his sentiment is contradictory to hundreds of years of independence celebration since John Adams wrote to his wife that the day “will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival,” Hurlbut’s statement explores another proposal by the founding fathers.
In the conclusion of the Declaration of Independence, the authors wrote: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The Big Sky Community Organization, which which in past years has hosted a Fourth of July 5k run and breakfast as well as a three-on-three basketball tournament, also made adjustments in the interest of public health. The organization is instead offering a virtual 5k and is directing interested runners to the Big Sky Community Outdoor Challenge Facebook page, which features a number of local 5k routes.
With less community organized options for the Fourth, many people are taking to the river, the woods and the mountains. As the executive director of ACBS, Hurlbut will spend his first Fourth of July not working for the first time in 20 years backpacking. He suggests that others take the opportunity to celebrate in a way they normally wouldn’t; take some space with loved ones, get outside.
“To me you can’t get any more celebratory than that: going somewhere special with your friends and family,” he said.
Part-time local Hayley Freedman, who has been spending time in Big Sky with her family for 24 years, usually spends the holiday enjoying Fourth of July Music in the Mountains with thousands of others. This year, Freedman and her friends are choosing an alternative way to celebrate on a three-day trip down the Yellowstone River between Gardiner and Livingston.
“Instead of the usual party in town, this will be a great opportunity to reflect on events of the past few months, be grateful for living in such an amazing place and be responsible community members by keeping the [float] group size small and safe,” Freedman said.
She added that while she’s disappointed to miss the annual music and fireworks, she is glad the community is being responsible.
For those sticking around the Big Sky area, Sara Marino, BSCO’s community development manager, suggested people enjoy the miles of community trails and outdoor spaces in the Big Sky area. The recently passed Great American Outdoors Act is a reminder of the treasured outdoors that Americans have voiced support for time and again, and spending moments in these spaces is one way to honor the privilege.