Citizen Wausau

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Big Shells Make Big Fun

by on July 1st, 2009

This Saturday, July Fourth, we will be celebrating the 233rd anniversary of “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” which is a term often used when describing the act of the 13 British colonies in North America declaring their independence from the Crown, located an ocean away.

As has been tradition for some time, we Americans have decided that the best way to celebrate a “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” is with shooting other things that make much noise to be heard – specifically fireworks.

Wausau has a great deal to offer for a community our size.  Those people who complain there is nothing to do really have not looked.  The arts are well represented.  Thanks to Rib Mountain and the Wisconsin River, we have year-round recreational opportunities, and I have already posted about the benefits of having the Wisconsin Woodchucks call Wausau home.

Considering the size of the overall Wausau Metro area, it is surprising that we really don’t have a truly impressive fireworks display for Independence Day.  I find that truly sad.

Before you start attacking me for me talking down about the Jaycee’s celebration at Marathon Park, I am not doing that.  I think they have a great way to spend some time, good low-cost entertainment for the entire family.  Normally they have fireworks two or three nights during their celebration.  However, I just don’t think that the fireworks they have at Marathon Park really do the Wausau area justice; I personally think that a community our size, on the Fourth itself, deserves more.

As a pyrotechnician myself, specifically one who has worked as part of the fireworks crew shooting the Jaycee’s shows for a few years, I understand what is going on and why they are limited to the type of show that they have.  And, some people actually prefer their show.  Their show is not allowed to use some of the really big, really fancy shells, so instead they have lower-level effects.  And because those bigger shells are much more expensive: by having ONLY lower-level effects, they can have much more of them.  Based on pure “number of shots,” there is a lot going on during the Marathon Park fireworks show – never a dull moment.

The Marathon Park fireworks for the Jaycee’s was my second ever show as part of a fireworks crew in 1993 (my first show was with the same crew doing a large show in Merrill a few weeks earlier, shooting off of an island in the Wisconsin River, we had some seriously big shells to work with).  At that time, the aerial part of the show consisted of 3” and 4” diameter shells along with some mid-level effects.  (Mid-level are those items that go in the air at least 50 feet, but do not go over 200’ – on average, the height of an aerial shell is the inch diameter x 100 – 3” shell goes 300’, 5” shell goes 500’, etc.)

With improvements made to Marathon Park, the 4” shells were removed from the show.  Shortly thereafter, our crew was moved to the Rhinelander Fourth show, which was shot from a golf course across the river from Hodag park.  Rhinelander’s show featured all the way up to 12” diameter shells shot out of mortar that was nearly 6’ tall.  So, here I was in Rhinelander with a very impressive show, but I couldn’t understood why the much larger area of Wausau didn’t have a show like this?

Because of budget cuts, Rhinelander starting shooting their show themselves, and we were awarded the Weyawega show.  That show went up to 5” and was still more impressive than Wausau’s.  Our crew then returned to Wausau a few years ago, and the Fire Dept. was dead set against our using even 3” shells.

I am no longer part of a crew, but instead have my own crew.  I now shoot a show in Pell Lake, a very small township just south of Lake Geneva, an impressive show lasting 35 minutes with up to 6” shells.

I understand the problem.  Although I would disagree with the Fire Dept. about the safety of 3” shells in Marathon Park, anything bigger than 3” does pose an issue with how close buildings and other structures are.  However, we have other areas in the Wausau area where larger shells could be fired.  The weekend after the Fourth larger shells will be part of the fireworks associated with the Balloon Rally, launched from the Wausau Airport over the river.

There has to be a way that the Wausau Area can be treated to a Fourth of July fireworks show with some of the larger shells that can have pretty impressive effects without interfering too badly with the Jaycee’s shows.  The Jaycee’s can keep doing the great job they are doing and have their “mid-level” show a couple of times, but on the Fourth itself, can’t we please have a decent show?  Too many people go to Stevens Point or Mosinee or Merrill.

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