The show, they hope, will go on.
If it all goes according to plan, many Charlottesville-area residents could enjoy the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting more than 2,000 feet in the air this Fourth of July and do it from a safe social distance.
The annual McIntire Park fireworks display fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year, leaving area residents facing an official fireworks-free holiday.
That lit the fuse of area business owners and civic influencers.
“Fireworks are something people look forward to every year, and it didn’t seem right. When times are hard like they are now, you need something fun,” said Tom Powell, the founder of Central Virginia’s Toy Lift Christmas charity. “We put it together about 20 years ago when it was last canceled and the fireworks had been going pretty strong since, until this year, until it ran into the pandemic.”
From Orange to Louisa, Ruckersville to Lake Monticello, most Independence Day celebrations met their match with the pandemic.
On May 13, the Crozet celebration was canceled.
“Out of a sense of caution and a great deal of regret, we have decided to cancel this year’s Crozet Independence Day parade, celebration and fireworks,” organizers wrote on their Facebook page. “We think cancelling the event is the right thing to do for public safety and the well-being of all the residents and friends of Crozet.”
Scottsville’s Fourth of July celebration, which was founded in 1913, surrendered to the virus on May 22.
“With saddened hearts we are sorry to announce that the parade has been cancelled for this year,” organizers posted on social media. “Due to the ongoing pandemic, we are unable to secure the permits necessary to hold the parade.”
The town’s fireworks also were canceled, though a Fourth of July decorating contest will be held.
Charlottesville influencers weren’t ready to throw in the towel on fireworks, however.
“I like the Fourth of July, it’s my favorite holiday,” said Ray Caddell, of Ray Caddell and Company Real Estate. “We couldn’t just let it die. We had to give it a try. There is nothing political about this show; this if for us, for all of us, no matter who we are. It’s a celebration of us.”
Powell and Caddell joined with Bob Schotta, Kelly Crispens, Barbara Lundgren and others to raise funds for the fireworks, find a location, pay for the costs and donate any funds raised above the costs to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
With a Facebook page and a GoFundMe account, along with personal contacts, the organizers have raised about $23,000 of the estimated $35,000 needed to cover costs, fees and security.
They’re hoping to raise enough money by Friday to cover the show and support the food bank.
“There are a lot of costs associated with fireworks that, when the city is sponsoring them, you don’t have to think about, like costs for police and the fire department,” Powell said. “We’re hoping we can take care of the costs and donate to the [food bank].”
“It’s a tough time for everyone, and because of the virus, a lot of people who have donated in the past are not in a position where they can help out this year,” Caddell said. “We’ve all been impacted by it, but we hope those who can will help out.”
Area developer Wendell Wood agreed to let the munitions be set off from property he owns near Carters Mountain, a site with an elevation of about 1,700 feet. Zambelli Fireworks Co. agreed to create a 30-minute show using large-enough shells to propel the fireworks between 300 and 500 feet in the air.
“We could see Crozet from the top of that mountain when we went up there to look around,” Powell said. “I think people will be able to see it from a long way away, if they don’t have too many trees in the backyard. It would be a nice way to cap the family holiday.”
With the fireworks going off 2,000 feet or higher above the area, the show should be visible from backyards, parking lots and side streets across the city and parts of Albemarle County, organizers say.
“I wouldn’t encourage a fireworks display that was going to bring a thousand or more people together with the pandemic going on,” said Caddell, whose band, Big Ray and the Kool Kats, has played many times at McIntire Park fireworks events.
“We hope this will be visible enough that people can sit in their backyards and enjoy it,” he said. “Sometimes it could be tough to see the fireworks, even if you were in McIntire Park, but this time they should be visible from all around the area.”
Organizers plan to shoot off one rocket a half-hour before the show and again 15 minutes prior to the fireworks so people know where in the sky to look for the pyrotechnics.
“I think it’s going to be a great show,” Caddell said. “I hope a lot of people can enjoy it.”