The rockets’ red glare will burn a little closer to earth this Fourth of July in Clayton.
Construction in a new housing development near the launch site of Clayton’s July 4 fireworks will force the town to use smaller, lower-flying shells.
Last week, disappointment over those launch restrictions divided the Town Council, with some suggesting Clayton end the annual show, fearing it will be a dud. But ultimately, the council greed to go on, at least for one more year.
Before construction began in the 330-home ParkView Development behind Municipal Park, Clayton had room to launch eight-in mortars 800 feet into the sky. Now, the height limit is just half of that.
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Over the years, Clayton built its July 4 celebration into a regional attraction. Now, council members fear the town won’t be able to meet past expectations
“Two things come to mind: Start out like you can hold out, and ‘go big or go home,’” Mayor Jody McLeod said. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any kind of event; I’m just not sure we should spend money on an event with conditions on the site.”
Earlier this month, Clayton staged a brief fireworks show under the new restrictions, with council members and town staff stationed around town to see what they could see. At Municipal Park, where the celebration takes place, the view was mostly normal, though the rockets didn’t fly as high. Elsewhere – at Horne Square, Town Square and Clayton High School, where many people watch the show – the fireworks weren’t visible at all, except for the occasional flicker.
“Maybe it’s time to scale it back until we find out how to have it like we’ve always had it,” McLeod said. “People are creatures of habit; they’ll want to park where they’ve always parked.”
Last year, Clayton’s fireworks display featured 6,131 shells. Town manager Steve Biggs said the town could spend the same amount of money and fire off 7,703 shells this year based on the size restrictions.
“We believe we can put on a show that is no worse, and possibly better, than years past,” Biggs said. “The number of shells we use could be very substantially more than in the past while maintaining the same budget. This could be a superior fireworks display to what people have seen.”
Parks and recreation director Larry Bailey said that based on the town’s Jan. 4 test, only about 20 percent of any show going forward will be visible from locations beyond Municipal Park. Councilman Michael Grannis suggested the town cater to people coming to Municipal Park, not those watching from afar.
“We should produce the show for the people at Municipal Park,” he said. “[Those parking around town] are not the people we’re trying to reach, in my opinion.”
Ultimately, the council decided to let the show go on for at least another year, with an emphasis on watching the show from Municipal Park. That is likely to draw more people to the park, and Biggs said the lingering concern is how to move the crowds of people in and out.
“We’re not sold on a shuttle,” Biggs said. “As people trickle in through the afternoon, shuttles can work, but when everyone leaves at the same time, shuttles don’t work well. Plus, shuttles can only go as fast as the rest of the traffic.”
In an effort to slow the mass exodus, Biggs said the celebration could include an after-fireworks band and continued games.
For this year’s show, Biggs said the town considered all Clayton open space, public and private, but ended up right back at Municipal Park. Grannis said he hoped the town would take a harder look at that before 2017.
“I’d like us to determine what other park space we have available,” Grannis said. “Possibly the river front. I don’t know if that’s it, but at least let’s look into other options.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson