Across the state, popular July 4th events are increasingly run by donations and volunteers.
Carrying a bucket of American flags and a plea for cash, Martie McGlasson is going door to door around Lake Minnetonka this week for a little-known cause: funding the community’s annual July 4th festivities.
And she’s not alone.
More and more, unpaid organizers like McGlasson are scrambling in the days before the holiday to recruit volunteers and raise money to help pay for the popular — and typically, free — July 4th events.
“It’s probably close to a $100,000 day,” McGlasson said of the star-spangled celebration. “It doesn’t just magically happen.”
This week, she’s on a mission to close a $10,000 budget gap for the lake’s daylong event that draws more than 15,000 people for live music, a sand sculpture contest, air show and other events. The main attraction, the fireworks, could be cut short, though, if the money isn’t raised soon.
“It’s going to happen, it just might not be up to the standards of the past,” McGlasson said.
The story is the same across much of the metro area.
The July 4th celebration in Coon Rapids was in jeopardy a few years ago until the mayor started a nonprofit to help with fundraising. Elk River’s celebration was also at risk a few months ago after organizers turned the event back over to the city, which has limited resources and is now rushing for donations to host a pared-down fireworks show.
And in Minneapolis, the Powderhorn neighborhood scrapped its fireworks this year in part because it cost too much.
“It’s always a challenge to fundraise for these events, even though they’re beloved,” said Becky Timm of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.
Alex Roeser, the head of Delano’s four-day event — which claims to be the oldest and largest Independence Day celebration in the state — said that in recent years, he has noticed that many July 4th festivities across the state have been eliminated or reduced to only fireworks. It helps, he said, that Delano’s event and others are run by volunteers who are passionate about keeping them going rather than leaving them to be run by cash-strapped governments.
“It’s not streets, it’s not the fire department … it’s not a vital function,” he said.
That’s exactly what Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe heard five years ago when the community’s July 4th celebration was in danger of being cut because the city couldn’t afford to help. When he asked other cities how their celebrations were funded, most said they had turned to nonprofits and private organizations. So Howe set up a nonprofit, using business donations and proceeds from charitable gambling to help fund the celebration and other community events.
“I think you’ll always be at risk in tight budget times if you don’t do it separate [from city government],” Howe said. “I think it’s the way to go.”
Forest Lake — the self-proclaimed July 4th capital of the Upper Midwest — has been doing that the past 90 years. To help fund the $34,000, six-day celebration, the local American Legion has hosted about a half dozen fundraisers throughout the year, from spaghetti dinners to a fish fry.
Business sponsorships also help, but when the recession hit, organizer Krista Goodyear said companies curbed donations, forcing her to turn more to the community. Some Legion members even got pyrotechnic licenses to shoot fireworks, saving some money.
“Every year it gets a little harder,” said Goodyear, who plans to appeal to businesses this week to close a budget gap of about $5,000. “Everybody digs deep.”
Keeping tradition alive
“This year, we’re hoping for good weather — and really thirsty patrons,” said Katie Robison, who heads the volunteer organizing committee.
In Minneapolis, organizers of Powderhorn Park’s event cut their budget almost in half this year by nixing fireworks, opting instead for a daytime celebration. It also helped them address safety concerns after last year’s event was marred by fights and spectators breaking through safety fences during the fireworks. The Minneapolis park police said it couldn’t adequately patrol the Powderhorn event as well as the much larger downtown riverfront show.
On Lake Minnetonka, five cities donate small amounts to help cover the holiday celebration costs, including $24,000 for fireworks. But the event, run by the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce, depends mostly on the community. The local Rotary Club raised $12,000 from a burger and bingo event. T-shirt sales and fees from a 5K and 10K run also help.
But the rest is up to volunteers like McGlasson, fundraising on foot around the lake to keep a 135-year-old cherished tradition alive.
“Some people don’t think about how it’s funded,” she said. “Somehow it’s overlooked that this costs money and it costs a lot.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141