As the clock approaches 9:15 p.m. each Fourth of July, thousands of residents and visitors to New Braunfels collectively anticipate the start of one of the longest running pyrotechnic displays in South Texas. The Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular over the skies of Landa Park always elicits open-mouthed wonder from children, “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd, and a sense that while you are watching you are also participating in a little slice of hometown Americana.
But few actually know how this annual fireworks display comes together each year. A display as large and colorful as the one in New Braunfels takes a coordinated force of pyrotechnic wizards, fire marshals and firefighters, police officers and park rangers all working together to bring those 20 minutes of Independence Day wonder.
It all begins about two months before the actual holiday when New Braunfels Parks staff, the New Braunfels Fire Marshals Office, and fireworks vendor Magic in the Sky out of San Antonio work together on filling out the permit request to the state fire marshals office. Once that permit is in hand, the real work begins. Parks Department staff begin writing the script and selecting the songs that will be played over the airwaves of local radio station AM 1420 KGNB. Those same songs also help Jacob Dell, owner of Magic in the Sky, make decisions about the order of the fireworks, using crescendos in the patriotic music as cues for when to add a few extra pyrotechnics to the display.
And there’s a lot of firepower in those fireworks. Dell, who has 21 years of pyrotechnic experience, says they use more than half a ton of pyrotechnics in the New Braunfels fireworks display. That comes to more than 2,200 actual firework explosions in the sky. Each type of firework has its own distinct look, with names like chrysanthemums, peonies, dahlias and crossettes describing the type of flower-pattern the pyrotechnic makes in the sky. Other shapes can also appear, like smiley faces and hearts. But this year spectators can keep an eye out for a brand new design that, once it explodes, will take the shape of the state of Texas!
On the morning of the Fourth of July, a series of events begin to unfold in the lead up to the Fireworks Spectacular. At 8 a.m., the Fourth of July Firecracker Golf Tournament tees off at the Landa Park Golf Course. But that’s the only golf that will be played there that day. By 9 a.m., as the tournament plays through, there’s a group of Parks staffers that assist the pyrotechnics crew to settle into place in the rough outside of the tee box for Hole #2, overlooking Landa Lake. That’s when they begin wiring up the equipment that will eventually ignite the fireworks roughly 12 hours later.
Meanwhile, more teams of park rangers begin roping off the greens of the golf course to protect them from being walked on. Families begin scouting out their spots on the remainder of the course, picking out just the right vantage point to view the fireworks that evening. They spread out blankets, chairs, and coolers as they settle in for the day. Some bring picnic lunches while others rely on the mobile concessions cart that offers hot dogs, cotton candy, drinks and other snacks.
Over at the fireworks command area, a pump truck from the New Braunfels Fire Department is staged, as a precaution, while local fire marshals oversee the setup of the fireworks display. And it’s all hands on deck for the New Braunfels Police Department. The entire department is called into action on the Fourth of July, with many officers working double duty to help watch over river-goers throughout the day and then transitioning into security for the fireworks event in the park, before turning their attention to traffic control once the display is complete.
The 2020 Fourth of July celebration in New Braunfels will be different than most years, due to ongoing limitations and restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will not be a Fourth of July parade in downtown New Braunfels that morning, and there will not be a live concert at the Dance Slab this year. But there are some new things to look forward to because of those changes. The RE/MAX skydiving team will be parachuting into the Golf Course ahead of the fireworks show! You can expect those skydivers to be drifting to the ground carrying the American, Texas and New Braunfels 175th Anniversary flags around 8:15 p.m. And as 9:15 p.m. draws closer, those that would rather stay in the comfort of their own home or are unable to make it to the park, can watch a first-time-ever live stream of the fireworks through the city of New Braunfels social media channels!
As the final countdown begins there’s a flurry of activity at the fireworks control booth. Parks Director Stacey Dicke confers with Chief of Police Tom Wibert and Fire Chief Patrick O’Connell about the weather, crowd control and other factors before they give their go-ahead to the fireworks crew. Then those pyrotechnic experts do one final check of the equipment before giving the final green light that they are ready to launch. Once they have that signal, Parks officials make phone calls to the staff at KGNB Radio to let them know that everything is ready to begin playing the music. And with the computerized automation system in place, as the crowd counts down “3... 2... 1,” the skies over Landa Park fill with sparkling color. And it’s not just those in Landa Park enjoying the experience. People find ways to view the fireworks from all over the city. From the parking lots of the Westpointe Village shopping center and Oakwood Church along Loop 337 to as far away as Fischer Park (which sits high on a hill overlooking all of downtown New Braunfels).
Once the music ends and the last firework has been fired in a spectacular finale, the work is not over for those organizing the event. Police officers report to their traffic control points as they try to help thousands of drivers make their way out of the park and back to their homes. Meanwhile, park employees begin scouring the golf course grounds for trash and other items left behind, while more park staffers help the pyrotechnic crew clean up the canisters and other debris from the fireworks display.
The Fourth of July Fireworks display over Landa Park has been a staple of local traditions dating back to the early 1900’s. And despite the ongoing pandemic, the city of New Braunfels is proud to continue this tradition, while still encouraging health and safety practices, like wearing masks and social distancing. So pack your blanket and picnic, some sunscreen and water, and be ready to be wowed at this year’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular in the skies over Landa Park. For more about this year’s festivities, please check the Parks Department website at www.nbtexas.org/fireworks. And for the livestream of the fireworks display, check out the city of New Braunfels official Facebook page.