As night fell on Payson Wednesday, families from around the state filled Main Street, making their way to Green Valley Park for the best vantage point of the night’s pyrotechnic festivities.
Cramming nearly every square inch around the lake, groups scattered blankets and chairs across the lawn, quilting the landscape with a red, white and blue color scheme.
Children flipped and rolled down the hills in nervous excitement. Others filled up on fry bread, ice cream and cotton candy from the 16 vendors.
As the rock tunes of The Technicolors winded down from the main stage, a collective silence settled over the park.
As the first splashes of color exploded in the sky and Green Valley Lake became a brilliant mirror of the red, purple, blue and green displays, it was clear there was no better place to watch fireworks in Arizona.
The town estimates as many as 11,000 enjoyed Independence Day in Rim Country, celebrating a year that also marks both the state’s Centennial and Payson 130th anniversary.
From the hillside vista north of the stage, the pops and bombs of the fireworks ricocheted off the surrounding hills, amplifying the show’s effect.
But this year’s display was more than just single pops of colors. The show dazzled the crowd with gold, crackling sprays, consecutive multi-color bursts and twin showers that weaved back and forth on the ground.
Onlookers oohed and aahed in delight, most commenting it was far better than last year’s display.
The town paid Fireworks Productions of Arizona $20,000 for the 35-minute light extravaganza. A small price given the huge impact the show has on the local economy. Most hotels sell out and restaurants and shops see a marked increase in sales given it is the town’s largest event of the year.
The Payson Water Department and Northern Gila County Sanitary District share the cost of the event as the original constructors of the park.
Some worried whether the show would go on as the advertised 9 p.m. start time came and went.
Cameron Davis, Parks and Recreation director, said winds blowing in the wrong direction delayed the start. Fireworks Productions of Arizona had to wait for Fire Marshal Bob Lockhart to give the go-ahead. Given the extreme fire danger, he was not taking any chances, Davis said.
By 9:30 p.m., the show started and ended without incident.
The drought prompted many towns to cancel fireworks shows, especially in Colorado.
A large team of emergency responders filled a room in Payson’s Main Street Fire Station hours before Wednesday’s festivities. The group went over street closures, traffic congestion, possible disturbances and the fire danger. Volunteers, police officers and firefighters then fanned across the park, manning their posts well into the night.
Their efforts paid off with minimal issues. Officers arrested two people — one man on an outstanding warrant and possession of drug paraphernalia and a juvenile on charges of underage consumption. Officers also asked one man to leave the park.
Three children were reported missing, but quickly reunited with their parents, said Police Chief Don Engler. “Having that many people it was a relatively good event without a lot of difficulties or problems.”
Earlier in the day, families got their fill of fun at the park, playing carnival games, including a balloon toss, wheelbarrow and potato sack races. A tug-of-war challenge between local and out-of-towners ended in a draw with locals taking one match, Valley folk taking another and the rope breaking in the final set.