Loudon planning festival, fireworks

Vicky Newman-News-Herald

After canceling the annual July 4th fireworks show in Loudon Municipal Park this year because of extreme drought, the city is looking at launching an alternative event.

Mark Harrell, Loudon Parks and Recreation director, said he is considering Aug. 25, a Saturday night, for a festival and fireworks on the riverfront.

He said the new venue would serve two purposes - reduce the likelihood of an accidental fire and showcase an area Loudon City Council has targeted for development.

The extreme dry conditions had already resulted in fires in Loudon Municipal Park on Highway 72, Harrell said. A small grass fire caused by a cigarette was discovered and easily extinguished.

"This is the second scariest time we've had since the drought of 2008," Harrell said. "Everybody we talked to said it was a smart idea to cancel the fireworks show because of the heat and drought. But Lenoir City didn't cancel theirs because they shot them from a barge. We thought of shooting them from the riverfront."

The fireworks would be shot 380 feet from the bridge, eliminating any issues with Tennessee Valley Authority, Harrell said. It is more than 200 feet from Tate & Lyle, which was a concern initially because of the alcohol produced at the DuPont plant.

"I talked to Gerry Schleuter at Tate & Lyle and he said it would be no problem," Harrell said. The city also is going to contact Viskase, but that plant is about 700 feet away from the site.

In addition to fireworks, Harrell envisions having vendors and entertainment to bring people into the area before the show starts. Riverside Park is less than three blocks from downtown and would work better than having a street festival downtown because of traffic flow, he said.

Boats would not be able to anchor in the channel for the display because of the fall zone required by the fireworks vendor.

"I think it would be good to make this an annual event with fireworks on the water. It is getting to a safer zone. With three sides in water it's less risky," Harrell said. "And it's so hot and there's so much activity on July 4. In August, school is back in session and people are looking for things to do."

Mayor Judy Keller said she wanted to see the idea developed.

"I like this a lot," she said. "I would love to see us take more advantage of the fact that we are on the river."

Development of the riverfront was part of a council plan considered shortly after the new board was elected.

Riverview Baptist Church, which is near the park, plans to open the church and provide children's activities and music. The Loudon Merchants and Property Owners enthusiastically embraced the proposed change when Harrell talked to the group Thursday.

More thorough plans will be discussed Monday by council.