With the last-minute cancellation of a drone show for Thursday’s Fourth of July Festivities in Aspen, many have wondered why the town wouldn’t revert to a traditional fireworks display.
According to Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, even the best laid plans for the shooting off of fireworks above Aspen Mountain may not have come to fruition.
County policy set in May calls for a blanket ban on fireworks during the warm months through October, though the sheriff has discretion to approve a fireworks permit application if one is filed, based on scientific calculations about fuel moisture and fire danger.
Had the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which plans the Fourth of July Festivities, applied for a fireworks permit, “it is hard to say without going back and looking at the science” whether such a request would have been approved, DiSalvo said.
“Ten days ago I probably would have said no,” DiSalvo said on Wednesday, noting that valleywide fire officials were seeing the “energy release component” of potential wildfire fuels creep back up to levels seen during last year’s drought.
However, there have been a few soaking rain storms since then, so it’s possible that the conditions could have been deemed safe.
But no fireworks permit application was ever filed, as ACRA was relying on a new technology to supplant what many see as a regressive way to celebrate the holiday, thanks to the growing, ever-present wildfire danger, noise impacts that can be harmful to people and animals and the mess that is left behind.
Maureen Poschman, spokeswoman for the Aspen chamber, noted that in four out of the last eight years, Aspen Fourth of July fireworks shows have been canceled because of high fire danger. That experience has led ACRA to seek out something that can stand in the place of fireworks.
While drones may serve that purpose in the future in Aspen, it was not to be this year or last year, when the chamber hired a Michigan-based drone company to produce a show here using dozens of the flying machines. In 2018, the show was canceled at the last minute due to unpredictable winds caused by the Lake Christine Fire in Basalt, which was barely 24 hours old at that point but burning out of control.
This year, the problem with the drones, coming from the same operator, was a longer time coming and more technical in nature.
“Unfortunately, two weeks ago, we detected a software malfunction that caused a significant communications error during flight at one of our performances,” Great Lakes Drone Co. CEO Matthew Quinn wrote in a letter to the editor published in Thursday’s paper. “We made the decision to ground our fleet for safety concerns until our vendor can provide a performance-based solution to this issue. As of today, the issue has yet to be resolved to the level of our standards. We have since canceled several shows over this time period beyond just the city of Aspen.
“This decision was not taken lightly but was made in the best interest of safety and quality performance,” Quinn’s letter continued. “As an aviation entity in a cutting-edge technology field, we must set the standards for ourselves and those who follow in this new industry. Safety has been and will always be our No. 1 focus in our operations. It may not always be the popular decision, but it is the right decision to be made.”
According to Poschman, the company “has a great record when they were vetted [by the chamber]. All destinations had great experiences and feedback.”
DiSalvo noted that the county’s fireworks ban does not apply to the city limits of Aspen, Snowmass Village or Basalt and that those governments could stage fireworks shows in their jurisdictions if they chose. None have pursued such a plan.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook like I’m the Grinch who stole the Fourth of July,” but that perception is based on misconceptions, DiSalvo said.
He added that the county’s policy does not preclude fireworks shows in winter when the fire danger is lessened.
Parade and transportation details
No weather events, software glitches or other concerns will put a stop to Aspen’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July Parade.
Staging for the parade begins at Second Street and Main Street with floats lining up at 10 a.m. Harley motorcycles, who lead off the parade, head to the staging area at 10:30.
The parade starts at 11 a.m., heading east on Main Street. It will turn south onto Hunter Street, then west onto Cooper Avenue. The parade will continue west on Cooper Avenue to Galena Street. At Galena it heads north for 2 blocks before turning west onto Hopkins Avenue. The parade will continue south on Mill then west on Hyman Avenue. Parade participants will be directed to disperse at Hyman and Monarch Street.
Rick Deane is the leader of the 2019 Old Fashioned Fourth of July Parade and grand marshal of this year’s celebration. Deane is the steward of the T-Lazy-7 Ranch, which has been in continuous operation for more than 80 years. He is also the longest serving active member of Mountain Rescue Aspen.
Parade judging will take place in front of the Hotel Jerome. Participants will be limited to one minute or less for any performances in front of the judges. Security will be on-site monitoring all entries to help prevent gaps in the parade route.
Recognition will be awarded to the best entries in the following categories: most patriotic, most humorous, best animal, best music, most outrageous, best children’s.
Water Balloons and water guns will not be permitted. According to city ordinances, those caught throwing water balloons or spraying participants with water guns will be removed from the parade and could face citations and/or arrests. Candy and other goodies should be handed out; throwing any items from parade floats along route is prohibited.
In terms of transportation, bus and auto traffic detours will be in place to divert traffic from Main Street from 9 a.m. through the end of the parade. Parking in Aspen will be extremely limited. Ride RFTA’s free in-town bus, walk or bike for a stress-free day. Bus info is available at 970-925-8484 or at http://www.rfta.com/. Free parking will be available at the Brush Creek Park & Ride with free and frequent bus service to and from Aspen.
Schedule of events for Fourth of July family fun
BOOGIE’S BUDDY RACE
Rio Grande Park
Free vendor village, race is $50/$60 to enter. Kids - $15. Five-mile USA Track & Field certified competitive race and a 1-mile family and canine run/walk with over 1,000 participants. Online registration available here.
9:30 – 11 a.m.
KID’S PARADE BICYCLE DECORATING
Paepcke Park (South East Corner)
Kid’s bicycle decoration for the 4th of July Parade! Helmets are required to ride in the parade (this includes adults). Free to participate.
10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
19th ANNUALAMERICA’S BIRTHDAY CARNIVAL
Food and fun for the whole family including bounce houses, face painting, kids' games, BBQ, beer tents, silent auction, and more. All proceeds go to Early Learning Center nonprofit preschool in Aspen.
OLD FASHIONED 4th OF JULY PARADE
Begins on Main Street (see map). Festivities include a parade, concerts and family fun by Wagner Park.
12 - 3 p.m.
AVSC JULY 4th COMMUNITY PICNIC
Koch Lumber Park (corner of Garmisch & Cooper Ave.)
$20 Adults; $10 for kids 12 & under (price includes lunch). All residents and visitors invited. Live music, kids games, volleyball, dunk tank, adult beverage garden, and Crystal River Meats burgers.
Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, www.teamavsc.org/events , 970-205-5100
THE ASPEN MUSIC FESTIVAL AND SCHOOL’S FREE FOURTH OF JULY CONCERT
Benedict Music Tent. Annual event brings the AMFS band to the Tent stage with stirring patriotic favorites.
5 - 10 p.m.
BLOCK PARTY W/ THE ASPEN VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPT. & MOUNTAIN RESCUE
Aspen Fire Department, 400 block of East Hopkins Avenue. Food, beer garden and live music. Free to attend, all food & drink proceeds go to the AVFD and Mountain Rescue.
DJ NAKA G & LASER LIGHT SHOW
Wagner Park. DJ Naka G will get the evening festivities started in Wagner Park, followed by a laser light display.