Fireworks brighten county skies, hearts

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The Fourth of July week is here, and with it comes the tradition of the fireworks. Ithaca and Lansing have two of the more popular fireworks shows in the county, and both are a draw for families and others to enjoy a big show and gather as a community.

The Ithaca Rotary Community Fireworks Show on July 3 from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. features vendors, a live band and fireworks and is a result of collaboration between the Ithaca Rotary Club, the city of Ithaca and the Friends of Stewart Park.

The Lansing town fireworks are on July 5 from 6 p.m. to 9:45 p.m. in Myer’s Park and will also feature numerous vendors, live music and neon sparklers.

Dale Johnson is the chair of the fireworks coordination group at the Ithaca Rotary Club, which has hosted the Ithaca fireworks since 2017. He said the fireworks in Ithaca have changed hands a lot – with Cornell, Tompkins Cortland Community College and Ithaca College all at one point taking them on.

Mayor Svante Myrick has voiced his support for bringing and keeping the fireworks in Ithaca, and Johnson said Myrick chose the Rotary for its volunteerism and membership – about 170 Rotarians make up the Ithaca organization.

“We were in conversation with Mayor Myrick, who’s a huge fan of the fireworks and put this together because the Rotary Club is capable of doing both the fundraising piece and organizing a fair number of volunteers,” Johnson said.

Rotarian Mary Berens is a former Ithaca Rotary Club president and volunteer for the fireworks show. She said taking on the fireworks in 2017 was “a big leap of faith” that the club embraced.

“This is the best of all community-wide events,” Berens said. “We see it as a great opportunity to partner with the city of Ithaca, the Friends of Stewart Park and our community at large to continue a very important … community-building event at one of the most gorgeous venues we have.”

Ed LaVigne, Lansing town supervisor, said Lansing is proud of a similar collaboration for its fireworks. The Lansing Community Council has been coordinating the Lansing fireworks for roughly eight years now, collaborating with the Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, Boy Scouts and local sports teams. He said it is all about bringing as many aspects of the town into play.

“We try to make it a community event, and so far, we’ve been successful,” LaVigne said.

Lansing has hired the football team and soccer team from the high school in recent years to help park cars, but LaVigne said he is always looking for volunteers. Berens said the Ithaca Rotary has a similar goal. She is hoping to draw more volunteers in these beginning years, as most who volunteer at the start continue to volunteer year after year.

Frank Towner, recently inducted Ithaca Rotary Club president, said he sees the Ithaca fireworks as a way for people to be inspired by the Rotary’s mission of service above self.

“For me, as president, … it’s the start of creating a culture of service,” Towners said.

LaVigne saw a comparable alignment between the Lansing Community Council and the community-building aspect of the fireworks.

“My favorite part is everyone gathering together as a community,” LaVigne said. “That’s one of the missions of the Lansing Community Council.”

There will be about 15 food truck varieties at the fireworks show at Stewart Park in Ithaca. Towner said the Rotary has especially tried to emphasize the food as a way to bring more people to the park as opposed to just watching from surrounding hills. That way, more funds can be made available for next year.

The Rotary is expecting around 7,500 people to view the fireworks, with most being in the park itself. It helps that the fireworks are launched at Stewart Park, Johnson said, since its low position means the fireworks are visible from nearly every hill in Ithaca. The large lawn and natural surroundings make it the perfect venue, he said.

Though the show in Lansing is a little smaller than the one in Ithaca, Myer’s Park is another central location that allows for fireworks visibility from the surrounding hills, drawing a lot of viewers, LaVigne said.

Johnson and other Rotarians try to put as many fireworks into the Ithaca sky as possible within their budget. The Ithaca event costs roughly $35,000, with over $16,000 of that just for the fireworks. Funding to pay these expenses comes from donations, not taxpayer money, Johnson and other Rotarians emphasized.

The Lansing operation is smaller than Ithaca and as such costs less – about $10,000. That is paid for by donations from the Lansing community and businesses like Cargill and Triad Foundation. LaVigne said the Community Council gives the Lansing Park Department $500 to make up for lost pavilion revenue for the night.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” LaVigne said.

Lansing may not put as many fireworks in the air as Ithaca, but LaVigne said Lansing offers something different from the Ithaca experience.

“The uniqueness of this is that we still raise enough money for the type of fireworks we have,” LaVigne said. “The fireworks that are set off in Lansing, because it’s over across Salmon Creek, is more of the ones that are aerial and very little ground show. So, no pun intended, but we seem to get a lot more bang for our buck that way.”

Johnson said he loves the community aspect of the fireworks the most, as he has continually seen the show bring people together.

“I just enjoy the sense that we are really building civic infrastructure, that we are making connections and strengthening each other out of collaboration,” he said. “Being a part of it for this type of event is just very, very rewarding on a personal level.”

Berens echoed that sentiment, adding that it is also about remembering what the holiday is all about.

“It brings people together, and it, I think, also reminds us … of we’re celebrating the Fourth of July and the history of our country and the long tradition we have of democracy,” Berens said.

Towner said that, especially from his perspective as a part-time clown, he likes the effect the show has on children who watch and attend.

“Frank likes the visuals,” Towner said. “Even more important than that, … it’s the look on kids’ faces when they watch them.”

All in all, LaVigne said that, if the fireworks make people feel closer to one another, than the show is a success.

“It takes their minds off of all the minutia of everyday life,” LaVigne said. “And just for a brief moment, they can see themselves as one community because the word ‘unity’ is right in the middle of ‘community.’”

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