Dynamite decade: Pelham’s Fire on the Water celebrates 10 years at OMSP

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, July 4, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer 

PELHAM – The city of Pelham and Oak Mountain State Park came together once again to host their annual Fourth of July extravaganza, Fire on the Water, a celebration that has become a cherished tradition for thousands of attendees in Shelby County.

Held on July 3rd, the celebration featured a diverse array of activities and entertainment that delighted guests of all ages throughout the areas of the park from the time the park opened at 7 a.m. until the grand finale at 9 p.m.

“Local food trucks, music by DJ Blaze, interpretive programming and wakeboarding entertainment provided by FlipSide Watersports (were) just a few of the activities visitors could enjoy,” said Chloe Funkhouser, events and marketing coordinator at Oak Mountain State Park.

Other activities occupied the attention of thousands of park visitors who spent time walking the Treetop Nature Trail, fishing from the park’s piers and enjoying a long day of fun on the park’s playground and basketball courts. Others took the opportunity to enjoy a day out on the water with paddleboards, canoes and collections of inflatables while families utilized picnic tables and grills along the shore.

As the day wore on, the visitors from throughout the park began to congregate to Double Oak Lake and its Oak Mountain Beach. Thousands packed onto the sandy beach and the nearby pavilions and walkways, while some took turns at beach volleyball and hundreds of others took to the water to stay cool.

Despite the heat, which reached highs nearing triple digits, the turnout for this year’s Fire on the Water was among the highest in the event’s history and during a special milestone as the event celebrated a decade of explosive excitement brought to the people by the hard work of both Pelham and OMSP.

Despite strict messaging that gates would close at 7 p.m. to all entrants, staff continued to welcome those entering the park for well over an hour after the cutoff time as traffic stretched for more than a mile outside the entry gates.

“We should never miss the opportunity to celebrate our country and our freedom,” Pelham Mayor Gary Waters said. “This is a continuing service where we have provided entertainment for 10 years. I’d like to tell you that it was my idea, but it wasn’t.”

Waters, who is now in his third term as Pelham’s mayor, recalled how the first Fire on the Water celebration came to be at time when he was new to the position and Pelham did not offer a firework display at all.

“A young man named Adam Sample, who grew up here in Pelham, came to my office when I was a new mayor and wanted to know why we didn’t have a firework show like the other cities did,” Waters said.

Waters remembers telling Sample, who was a park ranger at OMSP at the time, that the city did not have a venue large enough to accommodate the event.

“That was when he said, ‘Well, we’ve got the park,’” Waters said. “And I thought that was a great idea. (Now we’re 10 years later) and the Council has always overwhelmingly supported the event because it is what the people want. That is what we try to do, we always try to assess the temperature of the water and dive in when (the public) wants us to.”

Since that beginning, Fire on the Water has become one of the most attended and anticipated events of the year for both the park and Pelham who have also seen its own leadership grow attached to the sights and sounds of thousands gathered together to celebrate the nation’s birthday.

“Fire on the Water was the first event I attended when I moved to Pelham seven years ago,” Pelham City Manager Gretchen DiFante said. “I remember thinking how I’d never been to a firework display and party that was so fantastic. I continue to meet residents of Pelham who have never been to Oak Mountain State Park. My husband and I started a custom of bringing at least one Pelham family with us who has never visited Oak Mountain State Park and Fire on the Water. We bring a tent and games and make a whole day of the event.”

Roughly an hour prior to the firework show and with anticipation building to a boil, volunteers from American Legion Post 555 led the crowd in the presentation of the colors as a live performance of the National Anthem was broadcast throughout the crowd and over the calm waters of Double Oak Lake. That performance was then followed by a recitation of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.”

“We have been involved with Fire on the Water for the past seven or eight years,” Post 555 Adjutant Nancy Waller said. “The Oak Mountain State Park staff invite us to come and we always get (to see the fireworks from) this beautiful location and its where we do the presentation of the colors. Last year, we got rained out, but this year the weather couldn’t have been any better.”

Beginning just after 9 p.m., the crowd—which sat in near complete darkness—became illuminated from bursts of fireworks that took on a variety of shapes, sizes, heights and colors and all of which were backed by a soundtrack of classic and patriotic songs. As children and adults stared into the sky with awed expressions, the show lasted for over twenty minutes.

In a reflective moment prior to the start of the show, Post 555 Commander Bill Blank also commented on the importance of the celebration and the holiday for which it is held each year.

“The best way to describe the day is that the Fourth of July is just very patriotic,” Blank said. “It represents the day that we gained our independence (as a nation). The American Legion is comprised of veterans of the military and so it commemorates how our freedom started and how we also keep it going. It is something to help our young and other people learn more about patriotism, that is what we are doing here.”