Fourth of July show unlikely to return to UI

CHAMPAIGN – Whether you like watching fireworks at Dodds Park or not, you'd better get used to it.

Planners say it's unlikely the show will return to its former home near Memorial Stadium even after construction there is complete.

The University of Illinois Division of Campus Recreation is installing artificial turf on soccer fields just south of the former fireworks launch pad along Stadium Drive, and the turf is, well, flammable.

That's one reason the show was moved out of the stadium itself, which also has artificial turf, said Tony Clements, director of campus recreation.

What is shot up must come down, and that's not a healthy prospect for more than $1 million worth of new soccer fields.

"That stuff drifts quite a bit. We'd end up pulling stuff out of our swimming pools," Clements said. "Moving (the show) back is going to be a challenge ... unless we locate it somewhere else on campus."

The UI hasn't said no, or even been asked if it will consider taking the fireworks show back, said Sgt. Scott Friedlein, a member of the Freedom Celebration Committee. But the committee has concluded it's unlikely.

The Champaign Park District board agreed Wednesday night to again host the show at Dodds Park this year, and General Manager Bobbie Herakovich said the board is open to moving it there permanently, with certain provisions.

"We're trying to figure out ways to handle this for now and the future," Herakovich said. "I don't think there will be any objection to it."

One big concern is the impact on the softball and soccer fields at Dodds Park used by youth and adult leagues. The agreement for this year's celebration is that there will be no spectators on the ball fields at the Fourth of July celebration.

"We're putting thousands of dollars into the turf," she said. "It's really hard to maintain turf in an area that's that windy. Then cars drive on it. That makes it a challenge."

Another issue is garbage. Last year, park district workers and volunteers spent a lot of time cleaning up Dodds Park, Kaufman Lake and Heritage Park south of Bradley Avenue. Dodds was a particular challenge, as youth soccer games were scheduled there just two days later, she said.

"We need to encourage people to clean up after themselves or take their garbage with them," she said.

Herakovich didn't calculate the cost to her agency for last year's event, saying it's part of the park district's mission of providing recreation. But one stipulation in this year's agreement calls for a joint cleanup by all the organizations involved, she said.

"We're honored to be able to do it. We just need our citizens and residents to help us out getting the park back in shape as quickly as possible," she said.

Herakovich and Friedlein said Dodds Park is a better venue in many ways – more open space for people to gather and enjoy picnics or other activities, and better viewing for the fireworks.

Traffic remains the biggest challenge, Friedlein said.

"It's hard to switch from a tradition," Herakovich said. "I think it's going to take people awhile to adapt to it."

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