For 69 years, the City of Gunnison has marked the Fourth of July with social gatherings and fireworks. While the tradition will continue this year, things will look different compared to years past. City leaders are also grappling with how to manage the potential foot traffic during the popular holiday event due to health restrictions imposed in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Amid the slew of summer event cancellations, City Council on Tuesday discussed plans for celebrating the city’s 69th annual celebration of Independence Day.
Chief among concerns for Public Health officials is how to curb people traveling on foot throughout both Legion and Jorgensen Parks, where celebrations have historically occurred. As much was communicated to city planners during the application process.
For the first time in the city’s history, both Jorgensen and Legion Park will be closed on July 4. Barricades and signage will be erected encouraging people to follow public health guidelines.
Staff members and volunteers will work to control security check points and spread the word if they see anyone not following guidelines such as social distancing or mask wearing.
“Of course closing the parks has a lot to do with the effects of having too large of crowds,” explained Parks and Recreation’s events manager Andy Eflin.
However, restrooms at Legion Park, as well as the Chamber of Commerce will remain open. And rather than congregating in parks with music and vendors throughout — the newly envisioned holiday encourages people to explore the City of Gunnison.
Event planners also have modified the sprinkler system at both Legion and Jorgensen to be operating during a two hour window, from 7-9 p.m.
Councilor Diego Plata questioned the intent behind the water hours, whether the move was intended as fire mitigation or for overcrowding.
“This is discouraging folks to cross the borders or barricades we set up — it’ll certainly help with fire mitigation as well — but it’s more of a deterrent,” said Eflin.
City Manager Russ Forrest noted the city’s unique capacity for fireworks even in dry years, and further noted other Colorado communities following suit with a show.
“We have communities east and west and along the I-70 corridor that are doing this,” said Forrest.
Denver media outlets reported this week a total of 43 fireworks shows taking place across Colorado. There are additionally 70 fireworks shows which have been cancelled.
Another unique element of this year's celebration involves what the Parks and Rec Department has deemed the “Live Music Cruise” consisting of a band on a flatbed trailer cruising the streets of Gunnison.
Local band Floodgate Operators will perform for approximately two hours while visiting various neighborhoods throughout the city.
“It’s a little hard to predict where these pockets of people will show up, but if people are energetic and they’re following guidelines we’ll stop the trailer and play a song or so,” said Eflin.
Plata asked how parking would be enforced throughout the Fourth — at locations surrounding the park and even larger lots located on campus.
Eflin said the only possible closure would be for the Jorgensen ice rink for the fireworks show.
“If people want to watch from their cars where they can watch the fireworks, I think it would be something that we would encourage,” said Forrest.
To add to the festivities, the city will host a festive “Property Decoration Contest” encouraging residents to decorate their lawn, home, or driveway while incorporating an Independence Day theme.
The shell sizes for the fireworks, which produce different sizes of explosions in the sky, have not changed. However, this year there will be more shells for the show after eliminating lower flying fireworks, encouraging viewers to watch from home.
“The whole shows going more vertical, so everybody can see it around town,” said Eflin.
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)