If you like fireworks up close and personal, you are going to want to head to Arnold City Park tonight and Saturday night (Sept. 20-21).
A fireworks display will be held both nights, as part of the Arnold Days Festival, which runs through Sunday (Sept. 22), with most activities at the park on Bradley Beach Road off Jeffco Bouelvard near the Meramec River.
Both fireworks shows will start about 9:30 p.m. If either one is rained out, it will be made up on Sunday, starting around 8 p.m., weather permitting.
The fireworks will be shot off from a different location in the park this year. Previously, the fireworks were fired from the park’s ball fields, but this year they will be launched from docks floating in the park lake.
The traditional fireworks are great, but we were looking for something new,” said David Crutchley, deputy director for the Arnold Parks and Recreation Department. “We wanted something unique. In talking with (Gateway Fireworks owner John Weiter), nothing has been done like this in this area. I think with the reflection from the water, it will be pretty cool.”
The idea to shift the display to water started two years ago, Weiter said.
“A couple of years ago, Dave Crutchley asked if there was a way we could move the fireworks display from the ball fields and use the lake as a focal point,” Weiter said. “We tossed the idea around for a good period of time. We really have never done anything like this. It is very different and unusual.
“We are taking the large-area shells that go 300, 400, 500 feet in the air with huge bursts and compressed it. We have made it a more intimate and different kind of program.”
Creating the show
Gateway Fireworks has put on the fireworks displays for Arnold since 2005, when the St. Louis-based company was first hired to handle the city’s Fourth of July show. In 2007, the company s started putting on the Arnold Days fireworks shows, too.
When the company was approached about creating a lake show, the first thing it had to do was figure out how to get fireworks onto the water, said Thomas Dunsworth, Gateway Fireworks special operations director.
He said Gateway Fireworks has put on shows on the Mississippi River in St. Louis, but those shows were on barges and had longer distances to work with.
“The Arch to the middle of the river is like 1,500 feet,” Dunsworth said. “The audience being 1,500 feet away, you have to make the program big. Here (at Arnold Days) the audience is going to be 200 feet away.”
The company created its own floating docks to put into the Arnold City Park lake. The five 4-by-8-foot docks are not much different from those for boats, except they are small enough for the company to transport and then link together to create the firing platforms needed for the show.
“I have over $10,000 invested in the floating platforms,” Weiter said. “We have custom made them in the shop. We developed, designed and built the docks in our shop.”
Dunsworth said the crew will use a johnboat to place the docks in the lake and anchor them into position. Then, each platform will be covered with various fireworks the crew will fire remotely from the shore.
“The logistics of getting on the lake have more challenges,” Dunsworth said. “You can’t run out to check on anything. On the barge, you are on the barge. With this, the crew will be on the shore. It is a logistical challenge to get the stuff out on the water safely.”
Each of the fireworks shows is anticipated to last about 12 minutes with 1,468 firings, creating 5,208 effects.
Gateway Fireworks also created a special sound track featuring rock and pop music to accompany the show. Each explosion or effect will be timed down to one-hundredth of a second to go off with specific beats, Dunsworth said.
He said the show will be like a play with each piece of music being its own act leading up to a big finale.
“I have my fingers crossed,” Weiter said. “We will wait and see how it all comes out, because like the audience, this is the first time we have done it.”
Dunsworth said the fireworks will not go up as high as when they were ignited from the ball field and will have a horizontal visual effect as opposed to the vertical effect associated with past displays the company has done in Arnold.
“The view will be about 600 to 800 feet wide and up to 350 feet high,” he said. “Instead of one or two shells going up in the middle, there will be spots where five different positions on the lake will shoot something simultaneously.”
Dunsworth said previous Arnold Days shows had fireworks travel up to 600 feet in the air.
Because the fireworks will not travel as high this year, people will have to stay in the park to see the display.
“The best of view is anywhere on the long side of the lake by the pavilions,” he said.
More than a show
Moving the fireworks display from the ball fields to the lake is creating at least two anticipated benefits for Arnold Days this year.
The first is additional parking.
Crutchley said by having both ball fields open for parking, there will be about 1,200 parking spots, about 300 more than what was available in previous years.
A second benefit is more people will likely stay to the end of event to see the fireworks up close.
Arnold Days is scheduled to end at 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday following the fireworks shows. The festival will close at 8 p.m. Sunday, unless a rainout fireworks show is held that night.