Kremmling continues tradition of fireworks off cliffs


by Marissa Lorenz

Kremmling will again be going ahead with its traditional 4th of July

“Fire up the Cliffs” fireworks display, on another year when neighboring communities are canceling their incendiary events. The much-anticipated show will be moved back to the main cliffs this year to present a lively exposition in the sky, including one appearance by the largest commercially available firework shell in Colorado. All of which is good news for the Town of Kremmling and others seeking a less congested and more spectacular celebration than can be found in many areas this year.

2018 saw Independence Day firework displays canceled across the state, in a year of drought and severe wildfire that resulted in nearly 500,000 acres burned in Colorado and over 20,000 burned in the vicinity of Kremmling, between the Silver Creek and Sugar Loaf fires on Rabbit Ears and Ute passes, respectively.

Kremmling itself, however, maintains a low-fire danger, even in dry years, thanks to its unforested, steppe-like ecosystem. Kremmling’s fireworks did take place, though they were moved from the usual location, right over the town, to the western-most bluff, under direction from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which issues the Town’s fireworks permit. This move has been mandated at least twice over the last decade, due to an eagle’s nest that is often occupied on the Muddy Creek just below the cliffs. Just this week, David Boyd of the BLM confirmed that “the eagle nest is no longer active this year. Biologists believe it failed due to the harsh weather, as happened with other Grand County eagle nests this year.” But added “The peregrine and prairie falcon nests in the cliffs were successful, with two fledged young each.”

But 2019 has been a very different year, weather-wise. The National Resources Conservation Service, which monitors precipitation, currently has the year-to-date water precipitation at over 100 percent in most all of Colorado’s river basins. The Upper Colorado Basin is at 125 percent of normal, as of June 26, and the Yampa/White River Basin is reported at 121 percent of normal. In spite of this, communities are still seeing reasons to change their 4th of July celebrations, and potentially into the future.

The Town of Breckenridge cancelled their fireworks display in January of this year, long before one could know what summer conditions could be. Peyton Rogers, of the Town’s administrative staff, points to a January 7 Town Council meeting, at which the Breckenridge Tourism Office presented that they were planning on celebrating Independence Day without fireworks. The Town Council was in agreement, with Mayor Eric Mamula stating, “With the fragile state of our forest, Council can no longer support hoping for a rainy year. I don’t think it’s prudent for us to even send the message that that kind of activity in this forest is OK.”

The Town of Frisco, which has hosted a fireworks display over Dillon Reservoir for at least four decades, soon followed suit. In March, their Town Council determined to change the holiday tradition, with Mayor Gary Wilkinson issuing a statement that said, “Council decided that it was time to start new traditions, which will celebrate our country’s independence while respecting the health and safety of our community and environment.” Concerns had been raised about public safety, citing other past events during which crowd, traffic, and parking issues had presented challenges to emergency response services and response.

But for most Americans, Independence Day fireworks are as American as… the 4th of July.

And indeed, 4th of July fireworks were first used in 1777, while the Revolutionary War was still taking place, and John Adams, one of our founding fathers, remarked that he hoped they would continue to mark America’s independence for years to come. And so, in Grand American style, fireworks will carry on in Kremmling and other areas of Grand County, for this Independence Day, at least.

Kremmling local, Ken Wilkinson, owner of Fire in the Sky, is in the midst of sorting and organizing fireworks at this very moment, for Kremmling’s annual Fire Up the Cliffs event. Wilkinson began helping with the event 19 years ago, he says, as a volunteer with the Kremmling Fire Department. As time went on and the event grew, the Fire Department also had growing concerns about availability for emergency response and wished to give up responsibility for the fireworks themselves. Ken continued to organize the spectacle, as a member of the fire department for a couple of years, before deciding to get his own Pyrotechnic Operator License and start his own business. In 2014, Wilkinson took over as the display’s operator.

Since then, Wilkinson and his family have planned, sorted, organized, buried, set off, and cleaned up — all
to ensure a memorable holiday for residents and visitors, both young and old. And it is a family affair, he assures, as he, his wife, three children, brother, brother-in-law and a nephew will all be involved in putting on two displays on the same date this year, in Kremmling and at the Granby Silver Heels Arena. He speaks enthusiastically, explaining that he likes to “break the rules” a little bit and start off with a bang, as opposed to saving all of the excitement for the show’s finale. Kremmling’s extravaganza will again feature a 16-inch fireworks shell, the largest commercially available in Colorado. The firework is too large for many places and Wilkinson only knows of four other communities in Colorado that will be shooting one off this year, all in rural areas without much forest concern.

The show will begin at dark and will be preceded by all the other fixings of a traditional Kremmling 4th of July. A family block party will take place next to the Town Square from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m., with bouncy castles, yard games and free hot dogs, cotton candy and face-painting. Music will accompany BBQ and beer in the Park, from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. The Rotary will begin serving food at 6 p.m, and the Pie Sale will continue until sold out. — It will be a very happy American Birthday in Kremmling!