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The New Fourth: Utahns gather at local parks to watch fireworks amid COVID-19

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Derek Wang, Wyatt Grow and his son, Louis Grow, 3, Flor Velazco, Courtney Grow and Chanler Bledsoe, left to right, sit together as they wait to watch fireworks at Rock Canyon Park in Provo on Saturday, July 4, 2020.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — Families, couples and college students gathered in the shade at Rock Canyon Park on a hot Fourth of July afternoon to reserve a spot for the night’s firework displays.

Utah County, Provo, NuSkin and other local groups partnered up to bring three simultaneous firework displays to Orem and Provo Saturday night for families to enjoy from the comfort of their homes or out in the open to respect social distancing during COVID-19.

Utahns gathered around LaVell Edwards Stadium, Footprinter Park and Mountain View High School to watch the displays and listen to an accompanying soundtrack by KSL Newsradio.

Local firework displays and other celebrations around the state were canceled this year due to COVID-19, including the popular Stadium of Fire show.

People gathered with their families and friends in large groups at the park, but mostly kept their distance from the other groups. They barbecued, played spikeball and played Frisbee to pass the time.

Mason and Susan Hiatt, from Springville, said they usually watch the yearly display at Thanksgiving Point but decided to come to Provo to watch the display at Lavell Edwards Stadium.

Susan Hiatt said this year hasn’t been much different with the pandemic because they often spend time with their friend Sherlyn Tambasco and her family, who were at the park with them.

“We get together all the time,” she said. Mason Hiatt agreed saying they usually meet with Tombasco and her family once a week for dinner.

“It’s been a little less with all this quarantine,” he said.

Sam Anderson and her husband, Jacob, used one of the park’s charcoal grills to cook steaks and veggies while their accompanying friends set up a hammock and played with their baby.

“We usually do a big barbecue with our family,” Sam Anderson said. “It’s nice to get out and do something because it feels more normal.”

She said she’s not too concerned with the pandemic because she’s currently going to cosmetology school and already spends a lot of time with the public.

She noted that Provo seemed less busy than usual because the parade and balloon festival were canceled. Usually Provo hosts a popular hot air balloon festival and parade early on the Fourth, but both were canceled due to the pandemic.

Brooke and John Rodgerson set up a canopy and chairs while their sons kicked a soccer ball around and helped reserve a spot on the hill as more people trickled into the park.

“We usually go to the Stadium of Fire,” Brooke Rodgerson said, “but this year it’s different with everything being closed.”

She said they’ve been keeping their circle close with family and were waiting on additional family to join them at the park.

However, she said it was weird seeing Provo so dead for the Fourth of July.

“Everything is quieter. It was so weird to see the stadium dead at 5 p.m. on the Fourth of July because it’s usually crazy busy. You can’t even find parking.”

She said she likes this much better because she gets to spend time with family without all the stress.

“It’s better this way,” John Rodgerson joked, “because then I don’t have to invite people to my house.”

A group of college-aged women picnicked under the trees while waiting for the night’s show.

Kate, Mary and Sarah Riker, all sisters, said they would normally be in New York at the state’s fourth of July pageant, but they had to cancel because New York has put Utah on its list of travel restrictions that include a 14-day quarantine for visitors.

Jessica Ricks, a friend of the Rikers, said she came with them to the park to get a good view of the fireworks with her husband. She said they’ve been keeping their circle small and are trying to stay away from the other groups at the park.

People at the park placed blankets corner to corner with little distance between them on the southern end of the hill to get the best view of the stadium fireworks. No one was wearing masks.