Snafus snarl July Fourth celebration for many

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

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Dean and Dorothy Hearn of Gaithersburg (clockwise from top left) were among the spectators who came to Germantown Saturday night to enjoy the county’s first Independence Day celebration of the week.

An estimated 10,000 people came out Saturday to enjoy holiday festivities and a fireworks show over Germantown, and many of them did. But many did not.

Spectators who were directed to alternate viewing spots at Kingsview Middle School and Northwest High School after the parking lots filled at the South Germantown Recreational Park, where the show was based, saw the sky get brighter, but could not see the fireworks. Those who were directed to Spark M. Matsunaga Elementary School were able to see most of the show, though the fireworks didn’t seem to shoot very high into the sky.

And when the show was over, even those with a good view of the fireworks found reason for frustration.

A serious medical emergency at Clopper and Schaeffer roads snarled traffic at the end of the celebration, and left motorists stranded in the park for more than an hour.

The show, which started shortly before 10 p.m. — about 25 minutes behind schedule — wrapped up by about 10:15 p.m.

After an initial exodus by some lucky motorists, traffic movement inside the park was halted and didn’t start moving again until about 11:17 p.m., police report. The last of the cars left the park by about midnight, police said.

‘‘We can come up with some kind of shuttle-bus system for next year, that will be our plan,” said Mark Winans, the county’s manager of recreation for the upcounty. He added that all groups involved in planning the festivities will evaluate the event this week.

Also the young female pop group Huckapoo, popular on Radio Disney, backed out of its scheduled 5 p.m. performance several weeks ago because of travel and scheduling problems, said Montgomery Soccer Foundation Executive Director Trish Heffelfinger, who was involved in the planning. However, county press releases sent out last week continued to promote Huckapoo as entertainment for the celebration.

Even the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which was performing prior to the fireworks, had trouble Saturday. One of its buses broke down, delaying the start their performance and subsequently the fireworks.

But prior to the frustrations of the evening, spectators were able to settle in for some old-fashioned American fun.

By 6:30 p.m., the Teleki family of Gaithersburg had already laid their white picnic blanket on a hill near the King Barn Dairy Mooseum to prepare for the evening’s celebration.

‘‘This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever sat to watch the fireworks,” Istvan Teleki said.

Many of the 10,000 people who attended the event packed picnics and surveyed the area around the pond by the Mooseum and Discovery Sports Center for their viewing spots. People also gathered across Schaeffer Road and near the baseball fields and Adventure Playground. Spectators there, on the south side of the park between Route 118 and Schaeffer Road, also reported obstructed views.

The event marked the return of fireworks to Germantown, which lost its display five years ago when the county stopped funding it. That changed when Westfield Shoppingtown in Wheaton informed the county fireworks could no longer be shot from the mall roof as had been done for 11 years.

That left Germantown as the only feasible location based on parking, safety and timing.

Joseph and Janet Foots, who moved to the Manchester Farm area four years ago, were pleased that fireworks were going off so close to home.

‘‘Normally, we go to the Inner Harbor fireworks, but this is better. There is more parking and the kids can come and play,” Joseph Foots said of his grandchildren. ‘‘I’m going to have to see how these compare.”

The Kammerer family of Clarksburg enjoyed the music of the BSO. Riley, 2, and McKenna, 4, danced with their glow bracelets, even before the orchestra played its first note.

‘‘They’ve been excited all day,” said dad Daniel Kammerer, who told his daughters about the fireworks on Friday night. The family was in the middle of moving to a new house in Clarksburg after renting for nine months, and the fireworks were a welcome diversion.

Once the fireworks shot into the sky, one of the girl’s exclaimed ‘‘Oh! A rainbow!!”

But, rainbows are lucky and there wasn’t much luck after the last firework extinguished. Those viewing from Kingsview and Northwest didn’t get to see any.

The fire marshal approved use of 3 1⁄2-inch shells at Germantown and 2-inch shells for the county’s second celebration at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington on Tuesday night. In comparison, the city of Gaithersburg is able to accommodate 6-inch shells at its show, which is at the county fairgrounds.

The size is based on the amount of clear space from the shooting site. For example, a fireworks display with 3-inch shells requires a safety zone with a 300-foot clear radius.

‘‘We thought they would definitely be able to see them from Matsunaga and maybe from Kingsview if they got the right angle, we weren’t sure about Northwest,” Winans said.

Still, there were posted signs in Germantown directing viewers to Northwest as an alternate viewing site.