Independence Day celebrations in Eau Claire and Menomonie are modifying their fireworks shows with the expectation the coronavirus pandemic will still be a concern a month from now.
Eau Claire is planning a shift in location for its July 4 fireworks, moving them from Carson Park to a hill on the edge of downtown.
“We’re moving it to a location where more of the residents will be able to see it,” City Manager Dale Peters said.
Plank Hill, a spot behind Flynn Elementary School that is used for sledding in wintertime, is the proposed site for this year’s fireworks show.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the change of location during its meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
“We think it’s important for the community to have the opportunity for a community celebration,” Peters said. “This has been a challenging several months.”
Though restrictions on businesses and gatherings in place during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic have been eased in recent weeks, next month’s fireworks display is being planned to fit with precautions advised by local health officials. That includes generally discouraging large gatherings because of the potential to spread germs to many people in those situations.
So instead of the usual massive crowds of people in Carson Park and nearby areas, the new fireworks launching spot is meant to encourage watching the aerial entertainment from backyards and sidewalks among small groups of family or friends.
Also, low-altitude fireworks that created a ground display for people gathered at Carson Park in other years will be nixed in favor of only high-altitude ones that can be seen from a greater distance.
The city examined several sites to launch the fireworks and the option of smaller displays at multiple locations, ultimately concluding the best option is the Plank Hill.
There will be street closures close to the launching spot for safety, but also to prevent people from congregating outside of the nearby school or Forest Hill Cemetery, Peters said.
Menomonie officials decided Monday night on a smaller budget for their city’s July 4 fireworks show, but will keep it at the same location.
While the July 4 fireworks show will be again be at Wakanda Park, attendees will be asked to keep distance from each other or consider watching it from their cars or homes.
Budgeted for $3,250 in prior years, the fireworks display will only get $1,250 from the city this time.
The City Council had considered a proposal to give another $2,000 toward the fireworks show, which is put on by the Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
However, the council opted against fully funding the display over worries the money might be needed for unforeseen future costs related to COVID-19.
“I’m against this and what’s budgeted is budgeted,” City Councilman Lee Schwebs said. “With all that’s going on in the world, we don’t need to spend money for the heck of it. I’d rather see the money set aside for emergencies in case we need funds.”
Grocery store chain Festival Foods sponsors the fireworks shows in Eau Claire and Altoona.
Expecting that large gatherings would still be discouraged by public health officials, Altoona decided last month to postpone its Independence Day fireworks show.
“We knew that we wouldn’t be out of the gathering prohibitions, or it would be very unlikely,” City Administrator Michael Golat said.
Fireworks have now been rescheduled for Labor Day weekend at the city’s usual location, Cinder City Park. That celebration will comply with whatever local public health orders are in place at that time, Golat said, including if people are still advised to maintain social distancing.
While Altoona’s fireworks won’t happen close to July 4, Golat pointed out the silver lining that moving the celebration to early September gives area residents another chance to enjoy an evening of watching the sky light up.
“This way people have two opportunities,” he said.
Parker Reed of the The Chippewa Herald contributed to this report.