Independence Day in Aspen could be reimagined
Concerns of environmental impacts, crowds and noise have prompted officials to ask community members what they want in the future
With a two-year hiatus from the traditional Fourth of July festivities including the parade and fireworks due to the pandemic and drought conditions, along with concern from elected officials about increased crowds, noise and environmental impacts, Independence Day in Aspen may look different in the future.
“A lot of locals leave during this time, because it’s been so commercialized, and it’s not the Aspen they know anymore,” said Ann Mullins, a former Aspen City Councilwoman who serves on a committee re-examining July 4 events and celebrations next year and beyond.
If there are any changes, it will be up to the community to decide, according to city officials.
The city, which partners with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association on the event, is asking the public to weigh in about how to reimagine Fourth of July.
An online survey on the city’s website, aspencommunityvoice.com, has value-based questions rather than what specific events are favored over others.
Nancy Lesley, director of marketing and special events for the city, said the municipal government hasn’t done any direct outreach on the Fourth of July celebration in years.
So going into a revised, more scaled back event this year, after a pause entirely in 2020 due to COVID-19, is good timing to check in with the community, Lesley added.
“We want to be more mindful and go in with more intention and get more feedback,” she said. “Are we doing what the majority of the community wants?”
On the city’s website, some context is provided about what local government officials think about the traditional party days of Independence Day’s gone by.
“Over the last decade or two, the parade event has grown in length and participation, both in those sponsoring floats and viewers on the sidelines,” the survey introduction reads. “There has been some concern from Aspen City Council and members of the community that there is too much reliance on fossil fuels for the parade (vehicle powered floats for instance) and there is an opportunity to reignite the event in a more environmentally friendly, less carbon intensive manner.
“In addition, crowds and noise are an attractant for some and unpleasant for others.”
The city is taking public comments through July 18 via the survey, but there will be plenty of time after that to weigh in.
“The next couple of months will be about listening,” Lesley said, adding there is a long list of partners who will be part of the reimaging effort, including the business community, youth and those who have been involved in past celebrations. “I’m very interested in what people have to say.”
Councilman Ward Hauenstein; Mullins; Lesley; Sandra Doebler, the city’s special events coordinator; Jennifer Albright, vice president of event marketing for ACRA; and Aspen resident Stephanie Soldner serve on the reimaging Fourth of July committee.
The idea was born from a letter to the editor penned by Soldner last winter, asking city officials to consider a more environmental Fourth of July.
Mullins said it was a request at the council table to look further into the idea and that is when the committee was formed.
The feedback gathered from the online survey will be reviewed and common themes will be identified through mid-August, and then focus groups will meet until October before a final report is compiled.
Findings from the survey will be shared in October and an update will be provided to council and ACRA in November, before planning begins in December for the 2022 festivities.
Sunday’s Fourth of July in downtown Aspen features a “reverse parade” where crowds will be walking through the downtown Aspen core and stopping at stationary exhibits.
The streets in the core will be closed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the kids’ bike parade will return this year after a hiatus in 2020 (decorating will be at Wagner Park starting at 9 a.m.).
The scaled-back festivities this year are not indicative of future Fourth of July celebrations, however.
Special event planners were unable to begin planning for a traditional Fourth of July parade because of COVID-19 restrictions still in place earlier this year.
“We had to make that decision in April and what we didn’t want to do is have to cancel the parade so instead we planned something we could scale down,” Lesley said. “I hope people look at it as one big street party, and I hope that is the prevailing feeling.”
A look at the Sunday events for Fourth of July:
Buddy Program 5k: 8 a.m. buddyprogram.org for more information and to register
Kids’ Bike Parade: 9 a.m. is bike decorating at Wagner Park, 10 a.m. is bike parade near Wagner Park
Parade: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. is Stationary Parade in downtown core
Concert: 4 p.m. Fourth of July free concert by Aspen Music Festival and School at Benedict Music Tent
Evening Events: 8:30-10:30 p.m. in downtown Aspen will be street performers and other late-night events
Laser Light Show: 9:15 p.m. at Wagner Park
Concert: 6:30 p.m. Fanny Hill is a bonus free concert with New Orleans band Miss Mojo