Most Crozetians don’t know much about the source of the 4th of July fireworks show that caps off an afternoon of parading and community merriment in Crozet Park each year, though many were sorely disappointed to hear of its cancellation this summer. Tim Tolson, president of the Crozet Community Association and a member of the small, long-standing fireworks committee, said several factors contributed to the non-show.
“Our local committee had worked with the same fireworks company from New Jersey for more than a decade,” said Tolson. “Covid canceled our 2020 show, but the company generously let us roll our deposit over to 2021 and kept the price the same, so the show went forward that year.” After that, the schedule that had worked for a decade began to break down. “Personnel at the New Jersey company had turned over and thinned out, and the remaining staff put me off until early spring of 2022. There was a severe shooter shortage, and the price of the show had doubled, which was untenable for the Crozet community.”
The committee scrambled to find a replacement company and one, Dominion Fireworks from outside of Petersburg, come out in early May to look at the site. “The assistant fire marshal who has done our fireworks approvals for a decade or more and a representative from Stanley Martin had worked with us to map out a spot that was far enough away from the new development on Indigo Road, just beyond the lower baseball field’s back fence,” said Tolson.
Fireworks displays must manage what is called a “debris field,” where fallout such as spent card casings, soot, embers, rocket sticks, and duds can fall safely. “The rule here is that for every 100 feet that the fireworks go up, there must be a 100-foot circumference of ground space clear below,” said Tolson. Unsurprisingly, the higher the show, the more it costs. Crozet Park shows in recent years have typically been closer to 300 feet high so that the show can be seen over the tops of the trees between the spectators and the lower field.
“The fire marshal had given us the option of putting the show right on the edge of the outfield fence along the first base line,” said Tolson. “The Dominion representative had a rangefinder that indicated that would still be too close to the townhouses that were to be built next to the dog park, but those at the time had not broken ground yet.” So the show was still potentially a go, but a final obstacle was the global supply chain glut. “These companies all order their fireworks from China, and the slowdown in receiving their crates combined with the late date and shooter [labor] shortage meant the show could not go on,” he said.
“The debris field requirements are a county thing, but they are based on what fireworks companies—and more importantly, their insurance companies—are willing to sign off on,” said Tolson. “Dominion said that the 300-foot area goes right to the edge of the back porch of some of those houses from where he was standing [so they were technically safe]. But he said his insurance company would likely point out that if somebody came out of their house and stood in their backyard, they would be inside the 300 feet.”
Though many Crozet citizens think that the 4th of July fireworks are paid for by Albemarle County or by some mythical Crozet fund, the show has been coordinated and financed for years by a tiny group of long-time citizen donors.
“There’s usually around a dozen people that donate $500, and they’re sort of the core that makes the fireworks show go,” said Tolson. “There’s also probably two dozen $100 donations, though since Covid that’s really dropped off, not surprisingly.” As hundreds of new residents settle in the area each year, an infusion of young, engaged volunteers to pick up the baton for the community is urgently needed.
Looking toward next year, a smaller debris field in Crozet Park would mean a lower profile show. Demand for fireworks shows has increased generally, so companies are less willing to do smaller or lower-height shows, and prices have, well, skyrocketed. “Companies I’m talking to now for next year are quoting $15,000 for a fifteen-minute show, where in the past it’s been about half that much,” said Tolson. “If the 4th of July falls on a Saturday and you want your show that day, the price doubles again.” One regional company is already fully booked for the 2023 holiday.
Given the obstacles, the committee has been brainstorming ideas for alternatives. One possibility is hosting the show on a large piece of privately-held property elsewhere in Crozet, though that presents logistical, parking, and permitting problems that would have to be hammered out.
“One of the places we’re talking about is Crozet Elementary,” said Tolson. “We could reverse the flow of the parade and end up there. But now that they’ve expanded the elementary school, we’re not sure that field behind it is big enough to have a 300-foot radius for the show. We’d have to contact the School Board to see if they would even be willing to let us use that space.”
Another idea is to use the abandoned 62-acre former Acme Visible Records site on Rt. 240 as a staging area for a show that could be seen by viewers at Crozet Park. This plan has the benefit of keeping the traditional setup of the parade and after-party intact, but would require permissions from the owners and would necessitate taller, more expensive fireworks to make up for the increased distance.
This year’s event, sans fireworks, saw about half as many people as usual end up in the park to eat, drink, and listen to live music. Though most of the food vendors still did well and donated a share of their net profits to the park, beer sales were much lower than in past years, and the park did not charge an entrance fee for this year’s event. “It’s historically been an important fundraiser for the park,” said Tolson.
To volunteer to help the fireworks committee or to donate funds for the show, contact Tim Tolson at [email protected]