Sharli Arntzen, right, and Ellen Thomas decorate a float on Thursday for this year’s Fourth of July parade. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Ketchikan is gearing up for its annual Fourth of July celebration. With a parade, fireworks, and booths at the mall, it’s looking like a return to normal in the First City after organizers canceled the traditional festivities during the pandemic.


Alaska has a special relationship with the Fourth of July, says Ketchikan-based historian Dave Kiffer.

“It is, for most people, the primary holiday in not just Ketchikan — pretty much every town in Alaska,” he said in an interview.

He says he thinks it comes partly from Alaska’s territorial days — a patriotic push during a decades-long campaign for statehood.

But Kiffer says another reason the Fourth is so big is simply the time of year. Alaska’s economy has long revolved around the summer. And the Fourth is a time when loggers, fishermen and miners could let loose.

“It’s this pause in the middle of the really busy summer where you can pretty much let your hair down and have a good time for two or three or four days,” he said.

He says Ketchikan started holding Fourth of July celebrations in the early 1890s. And the holiday has grown over the years, with tug-of-war contests, logging skills competitions, and all manner of events.

“Oddly enough, I found some some references in the early days when mining was still a thing. They would have like mining, breaking rocks, contests, digging-holes contests, a using-dynamite contest — which I think would be very interesting today,” Kiffer said.

And, of course, the parade.

“A lot of small towns have parades, but we go all out here. We have a two- or three-hour long parade. Pretty much everyone in town is in it — yet there are still hundreds of people watching it, which always kind of fascinates me,” Kiffer said.

Fire trucks, community organizations — even KRBD has a float. Plus, a Ketchikan tradition: class reunions.

“That’s always a big thing. It seems like half the half the parade floats are ‘class of whatever,'” Kiffer said.

And this year is no exception. KRBD stopped by the Southeast Stevedoring shop on Thursday to meet up with some classmates as they decorated their float.

“This year we’ve just stuck with a traditional red, white and blue theme,” Sharli Arntzen said as she and a few other members of the Ketchikan High School class of 2001 attached streamers and ribbons to a shrink-wrapped trailer.

Arntzen says after a year of isolation, it’ll be nice to get out and see her classmates again — even those that just live a little ways down the road.

“It’s just really great to come back together. We had a really amazing class in my opinion,” she said. “It’s just going to be good to kind of catch up with people and hear what’s going on, what’s new in their world, and make some new fun memories.”

The schedule for the holiday weekend in Ketchikan is packed, says Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce head Michelle O’Brien.

“If you try to do it all, everyone gets pretty exhausted. But most people do try to do it all,” she said on KRBD’s “Morning Edition” Tuesday.

On Saturday, there’s a pie sale at St. John’s Church and, for bikers, a poker run at the American Legion.

On Sunday, the Fourth itself, there’s too much to list: vendors’ booths at the Plaza Mall, a car show at the 1st Bank Financial Center, the annual Rotary duck race down Ketchikan Creek and a fireworks show at 11 p.m. to cap off the night.

And, of course, the parade. It starts at noon on Sunday, running north-to-south from Madison Hardware along Tongass Avenue and through downtown to Deermount Street. O’Brien says the Plaza is a great place to watch the parade — assuming, of course, you’re not in it.

For more on the schedule of events for this weekend, check out