For 35 years, the town of Avon’s signature Salute to the USA event has drawn visitors and Eagle County residents to witness its hallmark fireworks show.
However, at Tuesday night’s Avon Town Council meeting, council members discussed whether it was time to move away from the fireworks altogether.
“Is it time that we lead the way and look at an alternative to fireworks?” said Council member Tamra Underwood. “Should we be thinking about deploying that money in a more sustainable way and being the leader on that in the valley? Which would be our place with respect to Salute, our signature event. Maybe it’s time to move away from fireworks but just to have a kickbutt party of a different sort into the future.”
While each of the council members expressed their love of the annual fireworks show, they also understood the growing impracticality of hosting these pyrotechnics events.
“I agree with all of you. As much as I really hate to put a nail in the coffin of this really long-standing, beloved summer community event — it’s really the centerpiece for many peoples’ summer, most of whom are the broader community,” said Mayor Sarah Smith Hymes. “I don’t want to make it go away, but I think we have to be realistic about fireworks.”
The discussion — which took place during a joint meeting between council and the town’s Cultural Arts and Special Events committee — came about as the group debated what to do with the fireworks that went unused at this year’s Salute to the USA event. Amid extreme wildfire conditions in the county, Avon canceled its annual pyrotechnics display a few weeks ahead of the event.
Town Manager Eric Heil said that historically, this has happened about once every three to five years and that “it’s becoming more often” and that going forward, fireworks will not be “a regular guarantee.”
Still, Heil stated that moving away from fireworks would be “a radical change from the last 40-something years of what Avon’s signature event has been.”
Council member RJ Andrade said that this idea was something to embrace.
“In 15 years, there’s probably going to be no fireworks anyway at the rate we’re drying out every summer,” Andrade said. “If we’re canceling them every three years, let’s just get ahead of every one.”
Danita Dempsey, the town’s Cultural Arts and Special Events manager, cited that rising fireworks costs and supply chain challenges were another possible reason to leave pyrotechnics in the past.
Dempsey said that in speaking to Jim Burnett, the owner of the town’s long-standing fireworks supplier Western Enterprises, there has been a significant increase in the cost of fireworks as well as an industry consolidation. She said that, citing data from Burnett, the cost for 1,000 cases of “cakes” (or small fireworks) has risen from $10,000 in 2019 to $40,000 this year. She added that 95% of all fireworks come from China, “so you can imagine with the pipeline, what that looks like for us right now.”
With this, Dempsey expressed that “canceling the fireworks may very well become the norm as opposed to the exception as we move forward.”
During public comment for the joint meeting, one Edwards resident, Kris Miller, expressed her gratitude for the council even considering such a measure.
“I just wanted to say thank you to the council members that are seriously considering doing away with the fireworks. I would implore you as a moral, ethical and environmental reasoning to immediately discontinue use of fireworks and move to a different type of show,” Miller said. “The respect for veterans, people with PTSD (including myself), the wildlife, the environment are too important to ignore anymore, and there’s so many great things that can be done.”
Salute to the USA has historically been the town’s largest event of the year, bringing in many visitors from Eagle County and across the state. This year, without fireworks, it had 8,300 attendees. With this, council members did express some trepidation about leaving the town’s historic fireworks show in the past, however, ultimately agreeing it was the way forward.
And as for losing some of that economic driver, Council member Scott Prince said that maybe the town needs to shift its thinking away from its historic “heads in beds” approach to summer event marketing.
“We are now at capacity, or even possibly over capacity for those prime-time weekends. I think we really need to start thinking about taking our resources and putting them off to the shoulder seasons,” Prince said. “My outlook is different than it was three-plus years ago when I really saw that we had to really hit it hard to bring people here. But guess what? They’re coming here and I don’t see any end in sight with people wanting to stay here.”
The council did not ultimately make any final decisions to cancel the fireworks shows, but did task town staff with coming up with some alternative show ideas and costs. At the meeting, council expressed an interest in something like a drone show or laser show in lieu of the fireworks.
July in January
When the town canceled its July fireworks show this summer, it had already purchased the pyrotechnics. And on Tuesday, the greater fireworks discussion also included whether the town wanted to use the fireworks at a future date or pay a fee and cancel the show altogether.
In previous years when the July show has been canceled, Avon has used the fireworks for a January fireworks display. This option was again on the table at the meeting. Ultimately, Town Council went with the recommendation of the committee and decided to cancel the display altogether and pay the fee associated with cancellation, totaling $13,500.
However, council did express a desire for the committee to come up with ideas for future signature winter events, be it in January or other times when the town needs an economic boost.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.