Lawrence’s July Fourth community fireworks show canceled because of pandemic concerns

photo by: John Young/Journal-World File Photo

Spectators line the bank of the Kansas River at Burcham Park to watch the annual fireworks show on Monday, July 4, 2016.

Not even Lawrence’s longtime tradition of a community fireworks show is safe from COVID-19. A representative of the local Jaycees club confirmed Wednesday that the show along the Kansas River won’t happen this year.

“We safely could shoot off the fireworks, but we don’t have a way to safely have everybody watch the fireworks,” said Sherri Cannon, a member of the local Jaycees club that has conducted the fireworks show for many decades.

So there will be a little less bang this Fourth of July in Lawrence — as long as you don’t count your exploding patience that is being tested by the pandemic. The fireworks cancellation comes as other summer traditions also have taken a hit. The city has announced that the outdoor swimming pool won’t open this summer, and large parts of the Douglas County Fair won’t happen.

Cannon said the Jaycees received guidance from Lawrence’s Parks and Recreation department, which operates Burcham Park and other open areas downtown that usually draw a few thousand people for the show.

“They felt like, and we agreed with them, that unless we had a plan for Burcham Park, it really wasn’t feasible,” she said.

Cannon said the group couldn’t figure out such a plan that would comply with recommendations that people practice social distancing. While the state and county are going through reopening plans, it is possible that social distancing guidelines still will be in place in early July. Other events that are tentatively scheduled for July — like high school graduations, for example — have announced they will put restrictions on the number of people who can be in attendance.

Cannon said Burcham Park possibly could have been closed to the public, but then crowds simply would have congregated in other parks or open spaces downtown or near the river.

Thoughts of having the show and asking people to watch from their homes or other small group spaces was probably less feasible. Some homes would be able to see the show, but large parts of the city cannot.

Putting on a show and then placing a lot of restrictions on how people can watch it also wasn’t very appealing to the Jaycees, Cannon said.

“That doesn’t feel very community-oriented to do that,” Cannon said.

Instead, the group will start putting its energies toward next year’s show. Cannon said the Jaycees have no plans to use this cancellation as a reason to stop doing the show permanently.

“We have high hopes to be back in business next year,” Cannon said.

Historically, the Jaycees — the civics-oriented group numbers about 20 people — has spent $10,000 to $15,000 a year on the show. The nonprofit doesn’t receive any city money for the show, but it does do some community fundraising to support it.

Cannon said some of the money set aside for this year’s show likely will be used for a future show, but she also said the group is looking for a way to do something for the community’s youth this summer.

“But that is not easy, either,” she said. “It is not like you can sponsor a day at the pool or something like that. We are looking for ideas.”

In the meantime, the group knows that there will be disappointment about canceling this year’s event, which often has involved pre-show celebrations in the park featuring food, music and drinks.

“We know people really enjoy that show,” she said.

Canceling the show has been an emotional decision, but not one that was overly difficult to make given the safety considerations, she said.

“It wasn’t difficult based on the conversations with had with Parks and Recreation,” Cannon said. “It would be easy for us to safely shoot them off, but for the safety of everyone involved, it wouldn’t be realistic.”

“We love providing the service to the community, but it just wasn’t feasible this year,” she said.

I’ve put a call into the director of Lawrence Parks and Recreation for his thoughts on the decision. I’ll update when I get that information.

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