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Fourth of July events still on in Belhaven

BELHAVEN — The Fourth of July festivities are still on in Belhaven this year, from the traditional street dance and parade to the Pantego Mud Run and fireworks on the waterfront. The events will proceed despite an extension of Phase II of North Carolina’s reopening plan, which prohibits mass gatherings of more than 25 people in an outdoor setting.

“Our council did vote that we would proceed with caution with the Fourth of July and that we would assemble a safety committee,” Belhaven Town Manager Lynn Davis said. “We assembled that committee to look at the various aspects of the event and what we could change in order to make it a safe event and continue monitoring the situation.”

Some of those changes include moving all indoor events outside, putting up signage encouraging people to practice social distancing and changing the location of some activities to allow people to spread out.

“Things like the rides, we’ve canceled those, because there was no way to sanitize the rides thoroughly between riders,” Davis said. “We’ll also be spreading our vendors out and will be screening our vendors when they arrive to set up.”

Davis said attendees are strongly encouraged to wear masks to the event, and ultimately said people need to do what is best to protect their own health and the health of loved ones.

“We’re encouraging people to do what is best for their situation,” Davis said. “If they are uncomfortable, then perhaps they should stay at home.”

While the town has heard concerns from residents about hosting the festivities, which have only been canceled once in its 78-year history, during World War II, Davis thinks the event will be something positive during trying times.

“There is exposure in any setting,” Davis said. “This is no different than people sitting on the beach, this is no different than the protests, and a lot of other scenarios. We can just encourage caution and do what we can.”

Town leaders also hope the festivities will provide a boost for Belhaven businesses, many of which have seen negative financial impacts from COVID-19.

“The Fourth of July and the days around it are make-or-break days for many of our businesses on a normal year,” Davis said. “This year, it’s even more important for them.”

Also happening on July 4, right down the road on U.S. Highway 264, the Pantego Volunteer Fire Department will continue its longstanding tradition of hosting the Pantego Mud Run. The department’s largest fundraising event of the year, the Mud Run pits souped-up cars and trucks against a brutal, football field-length mud pit. Gates open at 11 a.m. and the Mud Run is scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. on July 4.

“Everything is corresponding with Belhaven’s activities,” said Pantego VFD Chief James Scheffler. “As of this moment, we are still planning to have the mud run.”

Scheffler said department members interacting with the public will be wearing masks and attendees are strongly encouraged to do so. Social distancing is also strongly encouraged, as well.

In a press conference Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper encouraged North Carolinians to celebrate Independence Day, but to also avoid large gatherings of people as they do so.

“It’s an important holiday for our country,” Cooper said. “But at the same time, this virus, when people get together, it doesn’t care if it’s a holiday. When there’s a crowd of people and a lot of those people are not social distancing, it’s much easier for the virus to spread. We would encourage local governments, businesses and everybody out there to be very careful about having these kinds of get-togethers.”

A full schedule for next weekend’s festivities can be found at www.townofbelhaven.com/4th-july-celebration.