The Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s decision to feature a light show using drones instead of fireworks this Fourth of July was based on unfulfilled plans to use the machines last year as well as ongoing concern about wildfire.
The chamber was recognized last week by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which sent out a press release honoring ACRA with a “Proggy Award” (“proggy” is short for progress).
The release credited ACRA with “opting for a drone show rather than fireworks this Fourth of July because of concern about wildfires.”
“Unlike old-fashioned fireworks, drones create dazzling displays in the sky without starting wildfires, polluting the environment, or terrifying animals and humans with PTSD,” the release says. "PETA is honoring the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for setting a fine example for other Fourth of July event organizers to follow."
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo is also seeking to ban fireworks during the summer months throughout the county for the coming season and in perpetuity, citing the ever-present danger of wildfire that hangs over this arid region regardless of winter precipitation conditions.
Jennifer Albright Carney said that ACRA began looking into drones instead of fireworks for the Fourth of July last spring, knowing that dry conditions are likely to continue to be a fact of life in Aspen. That was prescient because last summer was exceptionally dry with fire bans would have prevented any fireworks display.
When the day came, however, high winds prevented the operator — Great Lakes Drone Co. of Michigan — from staging the show. ACRA decided last fall to carry the contract forward for the 2019 Fourth of July celebration, Albrihgt Carney said.
The larger concern about wildfire led ACRA to explore drones instead of fireworks in the first place, Albrihgt Carney said, noting that fireworks shows have been cancelled in the past with no substitute because of dry conditions. That continues to motivate the chamber to test out the drones as a viable option, she said, while clarifying that this year’s program is carried forward from last year.
That decision was made before DiSalvo approached the chamber and county officials about moving away from fireworks as a long-term policy goal. That initiative will be discussed in a May 7 work session with Pitkin County commissioners.
Carney said that ACRA is respectful of that conversation and wants to do the right thing. Nothing is “set in stone” going into 2020, however. ACRA board of directors representatives have been split on the question with some wanting to maintain the ability to have traditional fireworks on the Fourth of July if conditions are safe from a wildfire-danger perspective. The Aspen area saw above-normal precipitation this year, though conditions can change rapidly as spring turns to summer.
According to PETA’s press release, the Washington, D.C.-based organization will be sending ACRA a framed certificate and vegan chocolates in recognition of its Proggy Award, which recognizes animal-friendly achievements in commerce and culture.
“We thank them for recognizing our efforts,” Albright Carney said.