Eagle River has a blast at annual fireworks festivities

Sunday, July 30, 2017 - 16:34
  • Fireworks at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The show featured $10,000 worth of fireworks. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River Lions Club member Barb Hoffman paints a child’s face at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. Hosted by the local Lions Club, the annual event was expected to draw several thousand people. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Fairbanks resident Aryanna Hall takes a jump on a bungee ride at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. Hosted by the Eagle River Lions Club, the annual event was expected to draw several thousand people. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A crowd gathers at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. Hosted by the Eagle River Lions Club, the annual event was expected to draw several thousand people. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Brothers Skyler and Dallin Rindlisbacher prepare kettle corn at their family’s booth at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. Kettle Korn Express was one of several dozen vendor booths at the popular annual event. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Finis Shelden of Chugiak at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. Sheldon, a member of the local Lions Club, has helped organize the popular annual celebration since its inception. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Fireworks at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The show featured $10,000 worth of fireworks. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Fireworks at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The show featured $10,000 worth of fireworks. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River resident Ivie Dick at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Ken Julian of the band Locomotion performs at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The Monday evening celebration included live music from two stages. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Wasilla resident Kaydence Seymore gets her face painted at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The popular local event features everything from hair painting and face paint to food, fireworks and other activities for kids. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Fireworks at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The show featured $10,000 worth of them. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Chugiak resident Sarah Dykman (right), the 2015 Miss Bear Paw Princess, volunteers at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Toys for sale at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. The popular annual event features vendor booths, food, live music and more. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Eagle River teenagers Zayne Masher and Cris Delgado play with Silly String at an Independence Day celebration at Eagle River Lions Park on July 3, 2017. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

Independence Day festivities began with a boom at Eagle River Lions Park Monday night.

The annual community fireworks show — hosted by the Eagle River Lions Club — is always a major event, according to organizers and spectators. This year’s show involved $10,000 worth of pyrotechnics, several thousand onlookers, dozens of vendors and two stages for bands. While the fireworks display itself lasted about 15 minutes, the celebration leading up the show ran for six hours.

Putting it all together takes multiple permits and months of preparation, according to longtime event organizer Finis Shelden.

“It’s quite an ordeal,” he said.

In the end, though, it’s always been worth it, Shelden said. For more than a quarter of a century, the Independence Day fireworks display has been a favorite summer tradition for families across Chugiak-Eagle River.

These days, the event draws people from Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and beyond. On Monday evening, as a thick blanket of low-lying clouds settled over the Eagle River Valley, the park filled with smell of funnel cake and barbecue and kettle corn. Live music drifted through the crowd. In the parking lot, drivers jockeyed for space, and a steady stream of people flowed toward the park on foot. The grass turned to mud under the soles of thousands of shoes.

“It’s really amazing to be up there on that bandstand and see this whole area full of people,” Shelden said.

Other local events may be bigger, he said, but few gather such a large number of people in such a small area over such a relatively short period of time.

Longtime fireworks fans come ready to face the crowds.

“To get this spot, we come the day before,” said Eagle River resident Teresa Taylor, preparing to watch the show from her family RV Monday night.

She said her family has attended the event for more than 20 years — rain or shine. The fireworks show is a reunion of sorts, Taylor said.

“I love the people,” she said.

The local park buzzed with activity all Monday evening. Children chased each other around the stage. Teenagers pelted one another with silly string. Adults who grew up attending the free fireworks show came back with their own children in tow. When the fireworks began to light up the sky at midnight, local families and friends gathered under the lights, just like they have for decades. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, Shelden said.

“If they’re not in Seward or Homer or somewhere out of town, they will be here,” he said. “They’ll be right here, where they were born and raised.”

The event was the first of two major Independence Day events around the area. On Tuesday, July 4, the 47th Annual Chugiak Fourth of July Parade was held on the Old Glenn Highway through Chugiak. The event drew several hundred spectators as well as 30-40 entrants. Check next week’s Star to see which parade entries took home prizes.

For more photos from the events, visit alaskastar.com

Contact reporter Kirsten Swann at [email protected].

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