Despite Powderhorn’s long tradition, park police say they cannot oversee two shows anymore. Neighborhood will weigh the options.
Fans of the July 4th fireworks in Powderhorn Park may have to change their plans this year.
The show, an Independence Day tradition for more than 100 years, has become too much of a strain on park police, officials say. So the event is likely to move to July 3, July 5 or maybe even some other date.
The 2013 event saw large fights, a food truck robbery and several interruptions of the fireworks as spectators broke through safety fences. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board says it doesn’t have enough police to keep things safe at both the Powderhorn show, where 20,000 people attended last July, and on the downtown riverfront, where 100,000 gathered.
“It’s beyond what we’re capable of doing,” said Jason Ohotto, chief of the park police. “Ask any law enforcement officer: The Fourth of July is one of, if not the busiest, day of the year. It’s a day that demands a lot of our officers. We can’t continue to support both events simultaneously.”
The Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA), which raises money for the event, is converting its monthly “Community Cafe” event Thursday into a brainstorming session at which residents are expected to discuss dates or other possible changes to the event, which is among the oldest community celebrations in Minnesota.
Although the Park Board supports the event with police, park staffers and cleanup, the neighborhood association, which raises money for the fireworks, will determine what comes next, said Nicholas Williams, assistant Park Board superintendent.
One day’s difference
Ohotto said park police could manage the Powderhorn event if it were held on July 3, which this year will be on a Thursday night leading into a three-day holiday weekend, or on July 5, which will be a Saturday.
So can the date make that much a difference? In a part of town where fireworks were once used as a community identifier on street signs, maybe so.
“People have really fond memories of this event,” PPNA executive director Becky Timm said. “We need to be very careful of that history and honor that this is a significant change for the community. Some people are just sad and see this as an unwelcome change. Some people think it’s great.”
Shari Albers, who has lived next to the park through more than 30 July 4th fireworks shows, said she and her neighbors used to sit in their yards with garden hoses to douse glowing remnants of fireworks that fell on their houses some years. Some simply left town to avoid the onslaught of traffic or the upset caused to their dogs.
Albers said she sees the fireworks, despite the crowd they attract to the neighborhood, as creating an almost small-town feel to Powderhorn, and being a comfortable alternative to the big event downtown.
She understands the strain the police face, she said, but: “I mean, it’s the Fourth of July. That’s when many people have the day off. A lot of people picnic before the fireworks.”
A check of the listings in the Star Tribune showed 15 community fireworks displays across the metro area from Forest Lake to Prior Lake last July 4th. There were five others on July 3 — a Wednesday — including one in Bloomington.
Parks Commissioner Scott Vreeland, who represents the Powderhorn neighborhood, said the date of the fireworks display isn’t the only subject he might raise at Thursday’s Community Cafe. Others might be alternatives to fireworks, which he said pollute ground and water with heavy metals and, in Powderhorn Park, can frighten the waterfowl that nest and live at the lake. A light show or blasts of ignited propane were two alternatives he suggested.
“Are there some things we can do that are just as much fun, that bring the community together, that aren’t focused so much on blowing things up?” he said. “Powderhorn has such a creative, talented group of folks with wisdom and expertise on all kinds of things. I’m not going to predict the outcome.”
Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646