Why Salt Lake City is turning into an electric alternative to celebrate July holidays

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SALT LAKE CITY — Begin lasers ignition sequence.

Utah’s capital city is set to debut a new laser-based alternative to the Fourth of July fireworks display it traditionally holds at one of its parks. It’s the solution to holding some sort of public event to celebrate the holiday.

“Laser Light Nights” — a free event that will run between 8 pm and 10 pm at Jordan Park on Saturday — will feature a 15- to 20-minute laser show set to music in place of fireworks.

A similar event is planned for July 23 at Liberty Park ahead of Pioneer Day.

The event is the solution that city officials decided on months after voting against holding a firework display earlier this year, citing the state’s ongoing drought and likely dry conditions in July. The Wasatch Front’s summer ozone air quality issues also factored into the decision.

“The laser shows help mitigate some of that increased air pollution and threats of fire that come with fireworks,” said Kristin Riker, the director of Salt Lake City’s Public Lands Department. “We’re in a pretty significant drought situation right now, and this is an alternative to fireworks that we’re really hoping the community will enjoy and can be something that we do in the future.”

It was already known that Utah’s capital and most populated city would forgo fireworks this year. The Salt Lake City Council voted against spending on fireworks back in March; Instead, it shifted the money to other celebration ideas. At the time, Salt Lake City Councilwoman Amy Fowler said spending $25,000 on fireworks felt “rather frivolous” to her, given likely threats of drought and fire conditions facing the city in the summer.

The dry outlooks then came to fruition. All of Salt Lake County is listed within extreme drought, according to the latest US Drought Monitor report. The early arrival of monsoons has only stalled dry conditions so far; The monitor still lists 83% of Utah in at least extreme drought, including nearly 8% in exceptional protection. Nearly all parts of the state are dealing with at least a severe drought.

At the same time, the Great Basin Geographic Area Coordination Center continues to list Salt Lake City as having an above-average fire risk in July before those rains are projected to reduce the risk back to normal in August.

We are so excited to try an alternative to fireworks. We’re hoping that Salt Lake City residents will be excited and love the show, as well.

—Kristin Riker, Salt Lake City Public Lands Department

The idea of ​​a laser alternative emerged as the city sought a solution to the adverse effect of canceling a city-sponsored fireworks display: city firefighters found the use of personal fireworks goes up when there is no public show.

Other cities across the country switched to lasers for various reasons in the past and have found success, Riker explained. She added that she is aware that fireworks on the Fourth of July are a “time-honored” tradition, so a switch to something else may not be easy for everyone.

Residents strolling by Liberty Park Wednesday had mixed views on lasers but said they understand and support the reason behind it. One woman, who only provided her first name, Anna, told KSL-TV she fully supports it.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “I think that over the past few years we’ve had lots of issues, certainly with our air quality — with not only the professional shows we have but also kind of the private, neighborhood shows that they do. There’s so much smoke in the air after the Fourth.”

Others were a bit skeptical yet optimism that it could work, given the fire danger.

Fireworks launched during a Pioneer Day celebration at Liberty Park viewed from Tanner Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 24, 2021.
Fireworks launched during a Pioneer Day celebration at Liberty Park viewed from Tanner Park in Salt Lake City on Saturday, July 24, 2021. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

The switch may also provide other benefits beyond reduced fire risk and air pollution. Many experts warn that fireworks can be triggering for people with mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, while they can also scare pets. Riker contends that switching to lasers may be helpful to the wildlife found at city parks.

“This is a much more environmentally friendly evening than having loud fireworks that can disrupt some of the bird migrations that we have in the valley,” she said.

There will still be some public fireworks events in Salt Lake City this year. For example, The Gateway is hosting a free event on July 4 that includes a fireworks display; the event begins at 5 pm with entertainment, food and games before the fireworks show.

The Salt Lake Bees will also launch fireworks following its game against Sacramento Monday night; it will do the same with games on July 22 and Pioneer Day, on July 24, against Tacoma. That does come with the cost of a game ticket, though.

As for the city’s official holiday celebration, the free laser show event on Saturday will run between 8 pm and 10 pm at Jordan Park, 1060 S. 900 West. There will be local food trucks on hand, though outside food and drink are permitted. The laser show will likely begin around 9:30 pm; A fog machine will help enhance the viewing of the lasers. The same schedule is set for the July 23 Pioneer Day event at Liberty Park, 600 E. 900 South.

Riker encourages people to arrive early to get a good spot because she believes both events will draw a large enough crowd. The show may ultimately replace fireworks, depending on future environmental conditions and the feedback of residents.

“We are so excited to try an alternative to fireworks,” she said. “We’re hoping that Salt Lake City residents will be excited and love the show, as well.”

Contributing: Debbie Worthen

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Desert News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.

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