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Minnesotans ready for fireworks at favorite spots

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Fireworks at Music in Plymouth, 2009
The fireworks display at last year's Music in Plymouth. The event has music, dancing, an orchestra and fireworks that last longer than most.
MPR Photo/Elliot deBruyn

Whether it's from a grassy hill overlooking the river, out on a boat at the lake, or in a comfy camping chair at the local city park, Minnesotans love watching fireworks. 

You might already have a favorite Fourth of July fireworks show, but is it among the best in Minnesota? We asked members of MPR's Public Insight Network to tell us about their favorite fireworks shows, what they like about fireworks in general and whether their community fireworks shows have had less pizzazz -- or have been canceled altogether -- during the recession.

FAVORITE FIREWORKS

For a city of 8,000, Stewartville in southeastern Minnesota is proud of its fireworks show. People come from bigger cities like Rochester and the Twin Cities and pack an area near the Root River where the fireworks are shot into the air.

"There are no mosquitoes, because we have a large bat population near the Root River," said Joel Packer, a postmaster who serves on the Stewartville City Council. "It just seems every year they just get better and better. ... It's a sight to behold."

View a map showing reader's favorite fireworks spots and a summary of where to find fireworks shows in your neighborhood.

Packer moved into a new house several years ago, and he can now watch the fireworks from his front lawn. That kind of access was one of the factors in buying the house, he said. "Now we fill the front yard with lawn chairs for friends and family -- not to mention we have bathrooms just a few feet away," he said.

An even smaller town where residents are anxious to see this year's fireworks show is Tofte, located between Silver Bay and Grand Marais on Lake Superior. Like many Minnesota fireworks shows, the Tofte fireworks are shot off near the lake where their reflection can be seen. But there was quite a surprise during last year's show: a shell got stuck in its tube and exploded, igniting the bunker where the rest of the fireworks were stored. 

"It was quite the display, all of it within about 30 seconds," said Tofte supervisor Paul James. "It was pretty spectacular to watch but kind of scary for the people doing it. Fortunately nobody was hurt."

Changes have been made to this year's show, which is automated so that it can be set off with the flip of a switch from a distance. While the 20-minute, $3,500 show certainly isn't one of the biggest in the state, James said the setting on Lake Superior makes it special. "We intend to keep the tradition going," he said.

On the other end of the size spectrum, Taste of Minnesota in downtown St. Paul usually has one of the biggest fireworks displays, and in past years there have been fireworks on every night of the festival on Harriet Island. This year, however, organizers are only planning a July Fourth fireworks show, but they promise it will be bigger and better than in past years.

Many people in MPR's Public Insight Network recommended Taste of Minnesota for fireworks watching.

"They pull off a great show," said Ken Zaffke, of Lakeville. "Afterward you can walk around the parks and city for a bit. St. Paul at night is a beautiful town and everyone is in such a good mood. It is quite simply magical."

CUTTING BACK, BUT NOT TOO MUCH

The recession and city budget constraints have threatened to extinguish many of Minnesota's fireworks shows. A few were canceled altogether, including the Fourth of July fireworks in Maplewood and city festival fireworks shows in places like Mora and St. Paul Park.

The city of Virginia was about to eliminate the $7,500 it usually puts toward its fireworks display, but there were a lot of complaints. The City Council gave in and decided to hold the fireworks.

"We said, 'what the heck, let's be patriotic,'" city operations director John Tourville said.

Fireworks at Music in Plymouth
Fireworks awe a huge crowd at Music in Plymouth last year on July 1. The event will be on June 30 this year and features bands, dancing, an orchestra, and a long fireworks display at dark.
MPR Photo/Elliot deBruyn

Virginia has lost about $750,000 in local government aid from the state over the last year or so, and Tourville said the City Council has had to make some tough decisions. It's possible the council will have to make the same tough decisions next year, and that might mean eliminating the fireworks, he said.

In Marshall, the budget for the city's fireworks show was drastically reduced this year as the City Council agreed to put forth only $2,500 instead of the $12,000 or $13,000 it usually spends, said Doug Goodmund, assistant director of Marshall Community Services.

City officials knew there was a possibility they would have to cancel the whole event, including the tradition of giving away 500 kites for city residents to fly in the park. But local businesses came through with sponsorship money, and the show will go on this year.

"It may be a little shorter this year, but the quality will be just as great," Goodmund said, adding that the Fourth of July celebration has always been an important community event in Marshall. "Nobody wanted to see the fireworks go away completely."

Mora, located about 70 miles north of the Twin Cities, used to have a fireworks show during its city festival in June. But the city hasn't been able to include the show in its budget the last two years. There's hope that 2011 will be different, but it's unclear at this point.

"It probably depends on how the economy for the state turns around," said City Administrator Joel Dhein, who also cited local government aid cuts as a factor in causing a tighter budget.

IT DOESN'T END WITH THE FOURTH

Of course, if you miss the Fourth of July fireworks shows or want to see more, many summer festivals will hold fireworks shows later in the summer. In some cases, those shows are bigger and better.

The fireworks show that serves as the finale for the Minneapolis Aquatennial celebration, which this year takes place July 16-24, is said to be one of the biggest in the country. 

Some towns don't have Fourth of July fireworks so that they can focus their efforts on having a great show during their annual festival. That includes Belle Plaine, which has a fireworks show during Bar-B-Q Days, which takes place July 16-18 this year.

Lindsay Brown, of Minneapolis, said she hasn't found a better show. "They aren't Fourth of July fireworks, but they're the best," she said.

Karl Kolden, one of the event's organizers, attributes the good fireworks show to the company that puts it on -- RES Specialty Pyrotechnics, which is based in Belle Plaine and has grown over the years. The company got its start at Bar-B-Q days and puts on a great show in appreciation for the success it's brought them, Kolden said.

"They always give us quite a bit more than what we pay for," he said. 

(MPR Public Insight Analyst Molly Bloom contributed to this report.)