Fireworks location changes to protect nesting birds

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file photo/Bill Janson The golden eagles position themselves under the well-protected ledge of the cliffs. It has been documented that the eagles have nested at this site successfully since 1975, possibly before. Golden eagles characteristically return to nesting sties intermittently and nested there in 2016. Golden eagles are large and can have a wingspan of seven feet. The nesting eagles are visible in this 2016 photo from Bill Janson.
file photo/Bill Janson The golden eagles position themselves under the well-protected ledge of the cliffs. It has been documented that the eagles have nested at this site successfully since 1975, possibly before. Golden eagles characteristically return to nesting sties intermittently and nested there in 2016. Golden eagles are large and can have a wingspan of seven feet. The nesting eagles are visible in this 2016 photo from Bill Janson.

In a flashback to 2016, Ken Wilkinson of Fire in the Sky is once again being asked to adapt plans for the annual fireworks display off of the Kremmling cliffs to protect a family of golden eagle family nesting in the cliffs. The fireworks will be moved to the far west end of the cliffs.

After meeting with the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday, Wilkinson was told that Lyle Sidener, Area Wildlife Manager for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, requested the BLM adhere to the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The BLM whose leadership faces are in transition, followed the lead of CPW.

Golden eagles are not federally endangered, but are protected raptors under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act last amended in 1978. An increase in the population of golden eagles has been documented by the CPW and may call for an update of the protection act. The CPW has monitored the golden eagles’ nests since 1975 and has documented 20 eaglets, six have been since 2010.

David Boyd, BLM public affairs specialist, says, “There are two eaglets this year. One has fledged and one has not. There is also a prairie falcon nest nearby with three chicks that have not fledged. Prairie falcons are also a sensitive species, so we will require the alternate fireworks location if those birds have not fledged as well. We will continue to monitor both nests.”

This is not the first time that the Town of Kremmling has had its plans deterred by the golden eagles’ nest site. According to Tonya Bina of the Sky Hi Daily News, in her 2010 article titled, “Where eagles pair: Nests may deter trail, activities near Kremmling,” a plan to build a trail from Kremmling to Wolford Mountain was tabled in 2010 because of the golden eagles’ nests and the recommended buffer zones.

In Bina’s article, she quoted Randy Hampton, the spokesperson for CPW in 2010, saying that the annual fireworks display was less disruptive than a trail would be because it was a “one-time occurrence…similar to a thunderstorm.” It is believed that Kremmling’s firework display began in the early 70s.

Cliff golf, an annual Kremmling Day’s event, was held as usual off the main set of cliffs that overlook town. According to Boyd, the nest is on the face of the cliffs and the permit for the fireworks display allows the fireworks to come as close as 100 feet to the nest. “Cliff golf got to within a quarter mile, which is closer than we’d like, but not 100 feet either,” he noted in earlier discussions about the nesting eagles.

The recommended buffer zones and seasonal restrictions for Colorado raptors by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is 2,640 feet (0.5 miles) which actually extends into the subdivision below the cliffs and encompasses the majority of the cliff area and its roads. The recommended buffer zone for the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is less expansive at 660 feet. It is these inconsistencies that leave Wilkinson and community members flummoxed.

According to Wilkinson, his original site plan for the fireworks and Google Earth information shows the closest a firework would have been to the eagle’s nest was approximately 650 feet. The eagle’s nest would have also have been protected from any firework debris by the outcropping of rock.

file photo/Mike Wilson Mike Wilson captured the face of the cliffs and the edge of town during the 2016 fireworks display shot from the west end of the cliffs.
file photo/Mike Wilson
Mike Wilson captured the face of the cliffs and the edge of
town during the 2016 fireworks display shot from the west
end of the cliffs.

Wilkinson states he will work with the BLM and their conditions even though he does not necessarily agree with it, citing the distance discrepancy between the BLM’s estimated distance and what his program shows from the nesting place. He also cites the daily traffic on County Road 227 which is right above the nest and has not seemed to bother the nesting eagles. “It is my argument if this does not bother them, a 15 minute firework show will not bother them either,” said Wilkinson whose sentiments have not changed since 2016.

The launch site for the fireworks display off the west cliffs can be easily seen from the Town Square and the activities in the park should also be a draw for those wishing to view the fireworks display. A complete celebration is offered in the Town Square on Monday – a free block party, a BBQ, live music from Caitlyn Taussig, and a beer garden. Those wishing to watch from the comfort of their vehicles can find excellent viewing at the Kremmling Mercantile parking lot or at the Allington Inn & Suites.

The show will begin at dark with the launch of a 16 inch firework that has become a tradition for Wilkinson to launch since 2016. This year the firework will be dedication to Kremmling’s future, Wilkinson said in light of all the changes within the town’s key people, notably the Chief of Police, Chamber Director and Town Manager. Interestingly, before Wilkinson began firing off the large firework to begin his show, one of the last times a 16 inch firework was launched in Kremmling in 2002 in honor of the terrorist attack on September 11.

The Kremmling Fire Department still did the fireworks at that time. Wilkinson began shooting off fireworks as a volunteer fireman, but the Kremmling Fire Protection District (KFPD) began to worry about the risks of having the majority of their volunteer firefighters on the cliffs if there were a fire call, which had actually happened in years before. With this in mind, the KFD reluctantly decided to step-down from their traditional role in the fireworks display. “I was sad to see the fire department quit doing it,” said Wilkinson. Wilkinson had been involved in the fireworks show for the last 13 years with fellow firefighter Jim Carland initially leading the firework display.

“Jim Carland got me interested and when he stepped down I took over,” said Wilkinson. It was just a natural step then that Wilkinson would be a natural fit for the job. This is when his company “ Fire in the Sky” was born. Now Wilkinson’s focus is on creating a spectacular show.

Wilkinson plans the firework display with fireworks 3 inch to 12 inches n diameter. The 3 inch ones fill in the space closer to the ground and the 12 inch ones are the magnificent powerful ones that shoot up in the sky. He also adds his own addition of pyrotechnics, that resemble balls of fire.

Wilkinson spends months choreographing the show across a 1600 feet span of cliffs, and is finding it harder to meet the demands of last minute changes, but assures us the show will still be spectacular. He also looks forward to the help of his family His daughter Jill will be at his side again after two years on a missionary trip and his son Andrew is now 18 and can officially be part of the production.

The 17-minute show begins about 9:45 pm after the sun has completely set and the cliffs are dark. Wilkinson has both state and federal licenses for his business. The federal license allows him to store and buy fireworks and the state license allows him to display and operate fireworks.

In addition to the Kremmling firework display, Wilkinson’s company will also be shooting the firework’s display at the Flying Heels Arena on July 4.W

Wilkinson can also be booked for weddings, special events and celebrations by calling 970-406-1083.

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