July 4 … from bing to bang to boom

Apparently, it happened something like this: It was during the ’80s in Durango, and a few residents would set off fireworks at the north end of the old fairgrounds rodeo arena, which was the original Durango High School football field. The fireworks were crude, the handling was dangerous, and the explosions unpredictable, which, of course, drew a nice crowd. It also scared the heck out of the livestock.

It was clear to almost everyone that a more organized, safer fireworks show was needed. But who would organize it? Chuck Norton and other notables led an unsuccessful effort to have a public or private organization take on the project, but they were turned down by all. Already on the hook for $5,000 worth of fireworks he ordered from a Utah supplier, Chuck and the committee passed the proverbial hat and started asking for $40 donations from every downtown merchant. They even placed collection jelly jars at City Market. The then city of Durango Fire Department was approached to set off the fireworks from Fort Lewis College, and to seal the deal Chuck agreed to feed them all, something he’s still doing 25 years later. But a serious in-town fire broke out, the Fourth of July show was canceled and the fireworks were donated to the La Plata County Fair.

The Committee of Notables didn’t give up. It convinced the City Council to provide funding to supplement private donations. The event moved to Santa Rita Park. Food-and-beverage vendors and arts-and-crafts booths were added. Live entertainment included several good bands and a bad Elvis impersonator.

The pre-fireworks party then switched to Rotary Park, and the fireworks were launched from Cemetery Hill for greater viewing from downtown and Rim Drive. From these storied beginnings, Durango has enjoyed an annual Salute-to-America fireworks display. For the last 10 years, eight more family-friendly events have been added.

The common theme through three decades and several venue changes: It takes committed residents, volunteer committees, municipal support, civic organizations and corporate sponsorships to keep our traditions alive.

Don’t forget the real meaning of this national holiday, and remember those who serve in the name of freedom.

So here are the details:

Kick off the morning at Rotary Park with the combination Freedom 5K Run by Durango Parks and Recreation Department and All-American Gourmet Breakfast by Rotary Clubs. Then move to Buckley Park to hear readings of our Declaration of Independence presented by Fort Lewis College at 11 a.m. Midday live entertainment, kids’ games, magic shows and a kids’ flea market presented by Durango Toy Depot follows. Hungry patriots big and small can enjoy a barbecue lunch, beer tent and kids’ games at the Elks Club on East Second Avenue and Ninth Street. Move closer into downtown for the annual 6 p.m. hometown parade presented by the Business Improvement District followed up with a high- energy street dance powered by the popular Hi-Rollers. The 9:15 p.m. fireworks show is sponsored by BP of America and presented by DFRA.

kunkelra@ci.durango.co.us. Bob Kunkel is the downtown business development manager for the city of Durango.