This Fourth of July will be unlike any other in the Pikes Peak region's recent past.
Local residents won't pack Memorial Park in Colorado Springs to enjoy picnics, throw Frisbees and watch late-evening fireworks. They won't wave American flags along streets in Monument during the town's annual parade. And they won't gather at the Springs' Rock Ledge Ranch for a Revolutionary War reenactment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of many of the area's traditional July Fourth events. But it hasn't stopped Independence Day celebrations.
On Saturday, 10 fireworks displays will take place in unison across Colorado Springs and El Paso County. Combined with a Colorado Springs Philharmonic broadcast on several radio stations, the displays will take the place of the Memorial Park fireworks show in the Springs and allow area residents to enjoy the sights and sounds of July Fourth safely from their homes.
In fact, the Symphony in the Park, as the Springs' Memorial Park event has been known, has been renamed the Symphony on Your Porch — at least, for this year.
"We're just going to have to enjoy it in a way that we haven't been able to do before and really appreciate the fact that people are still working hard to give us a good fireworks show that's going to be special, but different," said Doug Price, president and CEO of Visit Colorado Springs, which promotes area tourism.
Other local events Saturday include an evening Fort Carson Black Hawk helicopter flyover of several areas of Colorado Springs; a virtual July Fourth parade for Monument residents; an Old Colorado City parade of decorated cars; and face painting and other activities in Woodland Park.
And while a handful of area attractions are closed to the public, the Garden of the Gods Park, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the Pikes Peak Highway, Cave of the Winds Mountain Park and several other popular destinations are open and offer a chance for residents and tourists to enjoy the holiday, Price said.
Many restaurants, meanwhile, have reopened their dining rooms and some hotels are offering discounts and deals for local residents who might want to take a "staycation," he said.
"You can support your local businesses, your hotels, your attractions, your restaurants because there's a lot to choose from," Price said. "And they've worked really hard to get open and be able to do safe distancing and all those things. If you're staying in town, we're really asking people to check in and support them."
But as residents enjoy revamped July Fourth celebrations and attractions, and others stay home to host barbecues and get-togethers with family and friends, they need to follow safety measures or risk spreading the coronavirus, community leaders and health experts said.
"Stay away from crowds," warned Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers.
If the weather is nice this weekend, hiking and other outdoor activities are good choices, he said. But residents must observe social distancing guidelines and wear a face mask, he added.
"Outside is the place to be and not in large crowds, playing touch football and all that kind of stuff," Suthers said.
In fact, Suthers said he worries that some residents, especially younger people, are ignoring safeguards and contributing to a recent local uptick in COVID-19 cases.
A week ago, Suthers said he and his wife had dinner along Tejon Street in the heart of downtown, where tables were well spaced and other safety measures were in place.
But it was a different story farther south on Tejon, near places where younger people frequent, he said.
"They were all congregated in close quarters and I didn't see a mask in two blocks," Suthers said. "It's an age thing. I get it. They don't see it as a serious threat to their own health, but they need to see it as a potential threat to their parents' and grandparents' health."
Area residents who are getting together for the holiday should remember that "outdoors is better than indoors and smaller is better than bigger," said Michelle Hewitt, an El Paso County Public Health spokeswoman.
Outdoor settings have better ventilation and the risk to spread the virus decreases, while gatherings should be kept to 10 or fewer to lessen the chance of transmission, she said.
"If you're thinking about attending or hosting a social gathering, keep it small," Hewitt said. "Try to keep it to your own family or perhaps one other family or a smaller group of friends."
As much as possible, area residents also should wear face masks, she said.
"What we're most concerned about is if you're going to be in close proximity to someone for an extended period of time, so say longer than 10 to 15 minutes," Hewitt said. If two people are standing 3 to 4 feet apart and talking for 20 to 30 minutes, "that would be a good time to definitely wear your mask," she said.
And, Hewitt said, anyone who feels sick should stay home and skip the get-together.
"We recognize that people are engaging in more activities and kind of wanting to feel a little bit more of that sense of normalcy," Hewitt said. "Our goal is to just kind of help guide people a little bit, with here are some tips for how you can do this safely."
Among other things to know for July Fourth:
• MORE FIREWORKS DETAILS: This year's multisite fireworks displays, being staged by the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., will take place at these locations: Banning Lewis Ranch; Meridian Ranch; the James Irwin Charter School; the Patty Jewett Golf Course; the Club at Flying Horse; the Colorado Springs Switchbacks' Weidner Field; the Country Club of Colorado at Cheyenne Mountain Resort; Fort Carson; The Broadmoor hotel; and the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club.
For more information about the displays, how to live stream the event and to find a list of radio stations where the Colorado Springs Philharmonic can be found, go to www.coloradospringssports.org and click on the Fourth of July link.
• DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME: It's illegal to sell, use or possess fireworks in Colorado Springs and unincorporated El Paso County, said Sgt. Deborah Mynatt of the Sheriff's Office. The ban takes on added importance this weekend because of dry conditions of late, she said.
Illegal fireworks include bottle rockets, firecrackers, mortars, roman candles, smoke bombs, fountains/ground spinners and even sparklers.
The use of fireworks in the county is punishable by a fine of up to $750 or imprisonment for up to six months, Mynatt said. In Colorado Springs, the penalties are a maximum fine of $2,500 and up to 189 days in jail.
To report the use of fireworks, Colorado Springs residents should call the Police Department's nonemergency number at 444-7000, while county residents should call the Sheriff's Office at 390-5555. Don't call 911 except in the case of emergencies, such as injuries or fires.
While fireworks are illegal in the Springs and El Paso County, the city of Fountain has approved their use inside city limits through Monday. Flying or exploding fireworks or firecrackers, however, are not permitted.
• FIRE RESTRICTIONS: El Paso County remains in a Stage 1 fire restriction for unincorporated areas and open burning is prohibited. However, fires and campfires within permanently constructed fire grates in developed campgrounds and picnic grounds are allowed, along with charcoal grills and wood burning stoves at residences in areas cleared of flammable materials.
The Stage 1 restriction also prohibits outdoor smoking, except within an enclosed vehicle or building, a developed recreation site or while stopped in an area at least 3 feet in diameter that is barren or cleared of flammable materials.
• FEELING LIKE A TOURIST?: Visit Colorado Springs has reopened its visitors center at 515 S. Cascade Ave. in downtown Colorado Springs. Tourists can pick up brochures and other Pikes Peak region information at the office, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. More information: www.visitcos.com.