A thousand explosions within a minute lit up the sky and rumbled the chest of spectators at the Wamego Fireworks Show. Newbies figured this must be the finale. Seasoned show-goers in this town 10 miles east of Manhattan knew it was only a third of the way through the 30-minute set.
“We call it the finale that never ends because there are multiple times when you think it’s so spectacular this has to be the finale,” said Megan Umscheid, executive director of the Wamego Area Chamber of Commerce. “We’ve been voted the best public fireworks display in Kansas, and we should be voted the longest finale ever.”
Wamego’s Fourth of July fireworks show is unique because the meticulously choreographed display is planned and executed by a pyrotechnic crew of local volunteers. In the 1990s, increased regulations had forced organizers to outsource the show. After just a few years, community volunteers committed to the training and licensing necessary to return the show to a local production.
“With a crew of about 24 folks, including 13 seasoned shooters, who spend a year on this one show, you generate some pretty interesting ideas,” said Chris Hupe, a second-generation pyrotechnics crew member and lead technician. “We’re able to do things that other shows can’t because we’re shooting across an area that covers acres. We have more than 60 different shoot sites within the fireworks show, and our crew can shoot into different parts of the sky at once to create a much deeper and wider effect.”
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Volunteers donate hundreds of hours and sponsors donate thousands of dollars to offer the free show, which starts at 10 p.m. on July 4 (wamegofireworks.com). The town temporarily swells from its 5,000 residents to as many as 25,000 with visitors, so it’s best to come early and enjoy activities throughout the day: more than 200 antique cars and tractors, carnival, parade, live music and more. Activities begin at 9 a.m.
Fourth of July falls on Friday this year, and there are no public displays of fireworks scheduled in Wichita, creating the perfect conditions for a road trip to Wamego or one of these regional destinations (shown with approximate mileage from Wichita).
El Dorado: 30 miles
The city’s Independence Day celebration begins at 10 a.m. July 4 in East Park near Central and Woodland near downtown with a children’s fishing derby. Activities such as chalk art and a wiffleball tournament run throughout the day and all are free, including a hotdog feed and swimming at El Dorado Municipal Pool. The city gathers at McDonald Stadium, 200 N. Griffith for a 7 p.m. baseball game followed by fireworks. www.eldoks.com
Edmond, Okla.: 150 miles
LibertyFest covers nine days and includes 10 festivals, culminating on July 4 with ParkFest at University of Central Oklahoma, the largest parade in the state (more than 100 entries) and the largest fireworks display in the OKC metro. www.libertyfest.org
Dodge City: 160 miles
The Boot Hill Museum will help visitors celebrate the Fourth of July in Old West style – think sack races and seed-spitting contests – along with its regular entertainment. The city is hosting the Dodge City 300 Centennial, a motorcycle celebration July 1-6 to honor an important race that occurred there in 1914. The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series is at Dodge City Raceway Park July 4-5. The community hosts a free fireworks display July 4 at Memorial Stadium. www.visitdodgecity.org
Bartlesville, Okla.: 160 miles
Freedom Fest, from 6-10:30 p.m. on July 4, is centered on the revitalized downtown in Bartlesville. Visitors will find live music, games, a flyover by the 138th Fighter Wing, fireworks show and activities, including a patriotic kids parade. www.bartlesvillefreedomfest.org
Oklahoma City: 160 miles
Stars & Stripes Family Festival runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. June 28 in the Boathouse District on the Oklahoma River. Free activities include live music, vendors, watching water races, an interactive exhibit of Olympic sports including rowing, kayaking and gymnastics, and the fireworks show. Paid activities include racing and Riversport Adventures, an area with aerial adventure trails, wall climbing, paddle boarding and more.
Kansas City metro: 185 miles
The biggest fireworks displays on July 4 in the Kansas City area are KC (Mo.) RiverFest at Berkley Riverfront Park along the Missouri River and, on the Kansas side, the Star Spangled Spectacular in Overland Park at the city’s 52-acre Founders’ Park in Corporate Woods. Both include a variety of live music, games and rides for children and concessions. If you arrive early for RiverFest the $5 admission is waived. The Overland Park event offers free admission. There’s plenty to do on either the Missouri or Kansas side before fireworks, too. The Jowler Creek Vineyard & Winery, 16905 Jowler Creek Road, Platte City, Mo., will be open for tasting reds and whites while listening to blues music; Fort Osage National Historic Landmark, 107 Osage St., Sibley, Mo., re-enacts Independence Day in 1812; and Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead, 13800 Switzer Road, Overland Park, has patriotic lessons, crafts and activities planned. www.kcriverfest.com and www.starspangledspectacular.org
Seward, Neb.: 260 miles
Twenty miles west of Lincoln, Neb., this town of 7,000 residents becomes a gathering spot for 40,000 celebrating in “America’s Official Fourth of July City-Small Town U.S.A.,” a designation from Congress in 1979. More than 100 events make up the all-day festival on July 4, ending with a giant fireworks show at Plum Creek Park. www.julyfourthseward.com