At Kerr Lake event, many hands take part

Jul. 05, 2013 @ 06:21 PM

Twenty years ago the Vance County Department of Transportation began hosting the Independence Day Weekend Celebration.

While the celebrations consist primarily of fireworks, there is a lot of money and coordination that goes into creating the event.

The money for the celebrations — including the fireworks — comes from the 6 percent hotel-motel tax, not county tax dollars. Nancy Wilson, executive director and events coordinator of Vance County Department of Tourism, indicated that because guests generate the funds, the funds should be used for the guests.

“It’s really for those who are traveling for the week or the weekend,” Wilson said. “Locals drive in to the day use while campers can see the fireworks from where they stay at the campsites.

“The event is free so we try to keep it at a minimum.”

The $9,000 budget is directly proportional to the cost of fireworks. The only other cost involved is the rental of the Kerr Lake community building, which is the same cost as anyone else who would want to use the facility, $188 a day. Wilson said they currently have no plans to enlarge the budget.

The tourism department can ask for certain colors and types of fireworks, but Wilson explained that she likes to stick with the patriotic red, white and blue.

“We fly our flags high,” she said.

The first year Wilson had the fireworks, they were shot off bridge at Nutbush Creek. The following year Wilson inquired if the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who control the land around Kerr Lake, would allow the Vance County Department of Tourism to borrow their barge. The Corps not only allowed the barge’s use but also delivered it.

After three or four years, the Corps sold the barge and allowed the Vance County Department of Tourism to shoot the fireworks from their land instead, directly across from Satterwhite Point Park.

“I don’t know of another place where you can have all these people come,” Wilson said.

In order to have the fireworks at Kerr Lake the Vance County Department of Tourism has to obtain five permits.

“It goes with the territory that you have to ask permission,” Wilson said. “Some of it I knew about and some of it I’ve learned.”

Surprisingly, none of these permits contribute to the cost set in the budget, according to Wilson.

The permits are granted according to whether the tourism department can meet the required safety stipulations. For example, the Coast Guard required that Wilson have a safety zone in front of the shooting area.

“It’s all about safety,” Wilson said.

The permits were from North Carolina State Parks, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vance County commissioners and the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Wilson applies for these permits in January. She begins asking for volunteers between April and May.

People are needed to watch for any dangerous debris from the fireworks, patrol the swim zone, and have ambulances available as well as assist traffic and parking. Kerr Lake State Parks, the N.C. Highway Patrol and the Vance County Sheriff’s Office provide traffic control. Other supporting organizations include the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Hicksboro Volunteer Fire Department, state parks rangers, N.C. Wildlife, the Project Lift organization, Vance County Fire and EMS and the Vance Rescue Squad.

They are in attendance and ready to provide assistance.

“The event requires all of us working together,” Wilson said.

A few weeks before the event, the park rangers begin to prepare the park.

“You have to plan ahead to get it to go smoothly.” said Bryce Fleming, superintendent of Kerr Lake State Recreation Area’s state parks rangers.

Wilson estimates about 30,000 people view the fireworks all across the lake. “There are boats lined as far as the eye can see all the way back to the dam,” she said.

According to Fleming, more than 10,700 people viewed last year’s event from Satterwhite Point Recreation Area — three times the normal number of lake visitors on a summer weekend.

“All of that traffic is basically coming into a dead end,” Fleming said.

Thus, the rangers set up temporary parking lots, strengthen their power supplies and insure guests and volunteers have access to all of the materials they need. After the event, the rangers spend about half of the following day cleaning up.

“There’s lots of litter and the barrels, cones and traffic devices have to be put away,” Fleming said.

Each year the event is pretty much a repeat of the previous year’s planning and coordination.

Wilson said, “We’ve been doing it so long its not hard.”

But that does not change the fact that those beautiful fireworks take a lot of work.