Despite a smoky sky, organizers are expecting the three-day weekend and pleasant weather forecast to attract a slightly larger turnout for the Fourth of July events.

The day begins with the annual six-mile run that is in no danger of cancellation because of poor air quality.

"We're not really too concerned about it," said Recreation Superintendent Rachel Teige. "It's pretty early in the morning, and we've heard that the smoke is hopefully going to clear out of here on Thursday."

Four hundred runners, the average turnout for the race, were already registered as of Wednesday morning, she said, and the Parks and Recreation Department expected 50 to 100 more to show up on race day, when temperatures are expected to climb only to the mid-80s.

The theme of the day, "Commitment to Community," seems to have inspired more participation and creativity as well, said Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Chamber of Commerce which organizes most of the festivities.

"We're really excited this year over the commitment to community theme we've created," she said. "It really is creating a lot of different responses, a lot of different interpretations &

volunteerism, serving a as a city official or firefighter or police officer. Commitment to community &

that's what really makes our community celebration shine."

And the weather is no concern to her either.

"If we see a little bit of rain well, gosh, that's OK, because it might clear the smoke out a little," she said.

The smoke may actually send more Californians this way on the fourth.

The city of Redding, Calif. postponed its fireworks display due to poor air quality and a fire department already stretched thin helping with outlying fires. Some of the 20,000 spectators that event usually attracts may drive up to Ashland for the pyrotechnics.

"I think there are some people who always stay in town to see the fireworks, so I wouldn't be surprised if you see some more Redding-ites up in Ashland this weekend," said Kim Niemer, Redding's director of community services.

Bonnie McCormick, manager of the Southern Oregon State Welcome Center just outside of Ashland has seen several vacationers headed for California reroute their travel plans to avoid the haze.

"Yesterday we had quite a few (visitors), more than twice the amount we had this time last year," McCormick said. "About half the people who come in, we send back into Ashland."

And locals of course are looking forward to another year of Ashland tradition.

Jesse Hodgdon moved to Ashland 20 years ago on July — and was impressed with the community feeling of the Fourth. She has missed the parade just once since then and has watched the event grow and grow.

"Our town has gotten so much bigger and so many people come to enjoy the same things we enjoy about it," she said.

Ashlander Rayna Ahern, 14, has missed the parade just once in her life.

"It was really sad," she said. "It's my favorite event in Ashland pretty much."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .