For more than 30 years, Atascadero Lake Park was the setting for an extravagant Fourth of July celebration. Atascadero Jaycees were the ones behind the celebration and the ones setting off the fireworks under the supervision of a qualified pyrotechnic specialist.
Those who worked on the event remember there would be 15,000 to 20,000 people in and surrounding the lake park. Many people got to the lake early in the afternoon to stake out their spot to watch the fireworks that were fired over the lake. The placid lake provided a perfect mirror to what was happening in the sky. Every hill with a view of the lake was filled by vehicles by mid-afternoon. I often went too late to find a place to park that had a good view.
And in the park itself, families staked out their turf, which in most cases consisted of your standard-sized blanket.
Unfortunately, crowd and vehicle control became a major issue for the sleepy little community with a “normal” population of about 12,000 people (including 1,200 at the state hospital) in the 1960s and early ’70s. So on that one day our population almost doubled. Local streets became choked, especially following the fireworks.
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When Atascadero became an incorporated city in the summer of 1979, the new council became concerned about the potential liabilities. Public intoxication, individual fires, trash and even illegal fireworks were the norm. I walked through the park with my wife and daughter thinking we’d find a spot to watch the fireworks. I saw many instances of people lighting firecrackers and tossing them in any direction without regard to who might be in the way.
I remember a major fight that broke out and the efforts of sheriff’s deputies to quell the altercation. A sheriff’s vehicle was damaged in the incident.
By 1983, with the 31st annual lake event being planned, Atascadero’s new Police and Fire departments recommended that the event be canceled. Council members and staff began to voice concerns as well. Atascadero Jaycees formed a committee to study the event. They were to address crowd control and traffic mitigation measures.
Eventually, in March of 1983, the Jaycees informed the City Council they no longer wished to be a part of the celebration. The next month the council voted to put an end to the lakeside Fourth of July fireworks. There have been other Independence Day events, but without the fireworks.
In fact, not even “safe and sane” fireworks are allowed inside the city limits.
There will, however, be a bluegrass festival at Centennial Bandstand at the lake’s edge in the park on Tuesday, with festivities going on from 4 to 8 p.m.
Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.