By Bill Sniffin, Cowboy State Daily
LANDER — Grown-up kids love it. Dogs are terrified by it. Hundreds of people leave town because they hate it. Thousands of people come to town because they love it.
We are talking about the 14-hour pyrotechnic extravaganza known as the Fourth of July in Lander, Wyoming.
There really is nothing like it. Anywhere. And its level of explosiveness just keeps growing. Amazingly high-powered fireworks are set off by neighborhoods all over this town of 7,500 people. Once the sun goes down, it really turns into an experience, akin to the Bombing of Baghdad back in 2003.
Mick Pryor owns a tall building in downtown Lander that was built in 1892. He likes to sit on the balcony and enjoy the visual stimulus all around him of explosions and flashes.
“If you’ve never stood on the roof of a building on Lander’s Main Street at dusk on the Fourth of July — to have the 360-degree effect of fireworks all around and a brilliant sunset, you are missing out!” he says.
“We always wanted people to be safe and to be responsible,” said former Mayor Mick Wolfe. “But people deserve to enjoy fireworks on the Fourth. It has always been a tradition here, where Independence Day is our biggest holiday of the year.”
Kathleen Averill always leaves town on the Fourth and just hates all the noise.
“I know that some of the people in Lander who live on the taxpayers’ dime spend more on fireworks than they do on food for their family,” Averill said.
“We have to leave on the Fourth. We have not enjoyed a Fourth of July in Lander since 2012, when the City was forced to shut them down due to drought,” she continued.
“A lot of people that I know said that was the last best Fourth Lander ever had. I also know a lot of veterans that take their pets and head to the hills, leaving their spouses behind to watch their property for damage. How wrong is that?”
Averill said veterans cannot enjoy a holiday in their own homes or have their family over and that’s not right.
Loves The Parade
Andy Gramlich, retired administrator of the Lander Valley Hospital — now known as SageWest Health Care, in contrast, loves the Fourth of July in Lander, particularly its parade.
“I will definitely stay in Lander for the Fourth,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Rose Bowl Parade, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the Doo Dah Parade (he suggests a person Google that one), the Kudzu Parade and the Gasparilla Parade but this one is distinctly different. Others may be more professionally done but here it’s personal. One hundred entries in a town of 7,500.”
“People spend a lot on fireworks,” he continued. “Families on a budget often spend hundreds of dollars on every kind of firework you could imagine. The town looks and smells like a war zone but people are, for the most part, safety conscious.”
“Oh, here you can get close to the action whereas many of the other parades and functions require reservations and/or remote parking,” he said.
Best In The State
John Brown, a relative newcomer to Lander, said he believes Lander’s fireworks show might be the best in the state.
“From my knowledge of other Fourth of July celebrations around the state, my impression was the fireworks show that was in Sheridan could have been the only one that rivaled Lander’s,” he said. “Now that it’s moved to Devils Tower, I’m not so sure it will even approach Lander’s as it will no longer be supplemented by folks in a town of 15,000 people.”
“I’d be willing to bet the amount spent on fireworks by the people in and around Lander dwarfs the amount spent by the city on its fireworks,” he continued. “The overtime the city pays the police and fire departments to direct traffic and be ready for an emergency is probably quite substantial, though. This will be my 11th Fourth of July in Wyoming. Of those 11, I’ve spent 10 of them in Lander. I will stay in Lander for this one.”
Oldest Paid Rodeo
The Independence Day holiday has always been a big deal for Lander since it is the home of the oldest paid rodeo on earth.
But in recent years, this holiday has become a fireworks maniac’s dream.
In this town of 7,500 people (about 12,000 if you count rural subdivisions), you can find at least 40 different locations where neighbors have banded together to light big displays of fireworks.
And this is in addition to the fire department’s official fireworks show on the night of July Fourth.
The folks in the Indian Lookout neighborhood pool their resources and explode perhaps the most serious “amateur” show in town. People are stationed with hoses to extinguish fires that may erupt in the neighboring nature preserve.
It is almost impossible to adequately describe what Lander on the night of July 4 looks like. The sight is incredible. Lander sits in a valley and a lot of folks live in the hills around town. They tell amazing stories of what it looks like, peering down at the siege.
In recent years, some amazing color time-exposure photos have been made of the explosions. Last year, one enterprising photographer sent a drone up into the middle of the flak to get some of the most amazing images ever.
The July Fourth events are part of Lander’s annual Pioneer Days celebration which begins Saturday and features a big pancake breakfast, lots of distance foot races called the Challenge for Charities, two days of rodeos, a wonderful parade on the morning of the Fourth (watched by 12,000 people), a huge Rotary buffalo barbecue at Lander City Park at noon on that day plus lots of other activities.
A new addition this year on July 2 will be a fly-in at the local airport featuring pilots from all over the region.
Because the July Fourth holiday is such a big deal, just about all the high school reunions are held during that time, too. It is truly a homecoming for folks to remember.
So, on July Fourth, you will see smaller groups of unhappy residents heading out of town. Along the way, they will be greeted by thousands of happy folks headed to Lander for the craziest and most explosive experience they will ever have.