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July 4th Fireworks Set to Go Thanks to Budget Tweaks

When City Council cut the Recreation and Parks special events budget by more than $10,000 annually in its Fiscal Year 2011 discussions, many citizens thought the decision would bring an end to the City’s annual July 4th fireworks displays. But come Monday, the skies above George Mason High School will be bright with crackling flares, as some budget trimming and the generosity of the community has allowed the celebration to proceed.

Last year, budget negotiations called for the cut from the Rec and Parks budget, but because the July 4th celebration occurred so early in the Fiscal Year – which begins July 1 – the celebration went on for the most part as it has in previous years. This year’s occasion will be the first to feel the tightening of the belt, and according to Recreation and Parks Director Danny Schlitt, the squeeze is manageable.

“It was a significant dollar amount, but it wasn’t something we didn’t think we couldn’t overcome and continue to provide everything we normally do.”

Instead of canceling events, the Rec and Parks staff and advisory board decided that the best plan of action to make ends meet was to both, in nearly equal parts, scale back all of its special events and solicit donations.

The Rec and Parks division some funding through sponsorships and in-kind donations – encouraging businesses to provide supplies and services instead of making cash donations, an option that hadn’t been fully explored in planning for special events – but the majority of the donations came from the public, who gave more than $2,500 in donation boxes that were put out at all Rec and Park events.

Thus the July 4th celebration will go on, providing free-of-charge entertainment for the many thousands from Falls Church and surrounding communities who come to see the show.

The celebration will begin at 7 p.m., with a performance by the local rock cover band Bad Hair Day. The fireworks display will begin at 9:20 p.m., and guests are invited to sit on the George Mason High School stadium football field (only on blankets), and on the Northern Virginia Graduate Center parking lot. No alcohol, smoking, additional fireworks or pets will be permitted on site.

“Between 10 and 15 thousand people will watch it from somewhere,” Schlitt said. “That’s a big number for our little city.”

While the display wasn’t hindered by budget restrictions, Schlitt said that recent state-wide guidelines will restrict the magnitude of the display.

“We lost the ability to shoot some of the bigger, louder, higher fireworks,” Schlitt said, “so those people on site will get a better look at the show than those people offsite this year.”

A rain date has been set for the following day at the same time, if weather should permit the celebration from going on as planned.

The July 4th fireworks display marks the first of many special events of the Fiscal Year for the Rec and Parks division, with many taking place this summer.
The Concert in the Park series, which the division co-sponsored with the Falls Church Village Preservation and Improvement Society, began June 23 and will bring a new musical act and art display to Cherry Hill Park every Thursday until Aug. 4.

Come September, the Sunset Cinema series will also return, and movie will be shown at Cherry Hill Park on Sept. 2, 9 and 23.

Rounding out the month of September is the Fall Festival and Taste of Falls Church on Sept. 17 at City Hall and Cherry Hill Park, when Falls Church will be transformed into a celebration of food and the bounty of fall, replete with food, music and amusement rides.

The ever-popular Falls Church Farmers’ Market, too, will continue on Saturday mornings at the City Hall parking lot through the summer, featuring local vendors selling food, wine, crafts and more.

These free offerings, now that the country is in an extended recession and families are trimming their entertainment budgets, have become more popular in the past few years.

“I believe people have figured out that we have some free, fun, family-friendly events and we do our best to make them all those things,” Schlitt said.

Along with its special events lineup, the Rec and Park division has been entertaining the younger crowd with its summer camp programs, which are serving more than 4,000 enrollees this season, though the number is growing as registration continues.

According to Schlitt, the most popular program remains the summer playground program, a course for first through sixth graders of sports, swimming, field trips, crafts and other assorted activities that filled up nearly a month ago.

The Rec and Parks division also offers excursion camps as a more recent addition to its program, and this year has opened the camps up to children as young as 8 years old instead of the usual 11-years-old age minimum. For these camps, organizers put together five days of offsite activities, from canoeing to amusement park visits, which children can take part in and be transported to, all within the cost of registration.

For more information on the City of Falls Church Recreation and Parks department’s programs, visit fallschurchva.gov or call 703-248-5077.