Farmington's four-day Freedom Days celebration sets a regional standard
FARMINGTON — Fourth of July celebrations are a mid-summer tradition in cities and towns large and small across America. But it's a safe bet that few communities observe the holiday with as much gusto as Farmington does.
The city's 29th annual Freedom Days celebration takes place Thursday, July 2 through Sunday, July 5, and numerous events are part of the lineup. Tonya Stinson — executive director of the Farmington Convention and Visitors Bureau, which organizes Freedom Days — said a committee of approximately two dozens members spends months working on Freedom Days. This will be her 15th year to be associated with the event, she said.
"It's really fun," Stinson said. "There's something for everybody. It's family oriented, and there's a real focus on keeping it affordable."
Stinson described Freedom Days as a regional draw, with some events, such as the fireworks display, Party in the Park, Family Freedomfest and the Freedom Days Electric Light Parade, attracting hundreds, even thousands of visitors from all over the county and southwest Colorado.
Stinson acknowledged that a four-day holiday celebration is unusual, but she said Farmington's Fourth of July observance has always been of the multi-day variety, and local residents seem to enjoy it. In addition to the official Freedom Days events in the offing, there are various other attractions, as well, that help round out the celebration.
The festivities get underway on Thursday, July 2 with the annual Firecracker Fun Festival from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Brookside Pool at 20th Street and Dustin Avenue. The festival features water games, deck games, face painting and prizes.
The day's activities continue with a performance of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast" by Sandstone Productions at 8 p.m. at the Lions Wilderness Park Amphitheater. The production continues each Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Aug. 1.
On Friday, July 3, there is a full day of activities, beginning with the opening of the Gem & Mineral Show presented by the San Juan County Gem and Mineral Society. The show will be held at the Farmington Civic Center, 200 W. Arrington St., and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Mickie Calvert of the San Juan County Gem and Mineral Society has served as chairman of the show each year since 2007 and said the event has been around as long as Freedom Days, making it an anchor of the annual celebration. The show features approximately 30 vendors and attracts between 2,000 and 4,000 visitors each year, she said.
"Everybody loves the rocks," she said. "We have some dealers who have been coming here the whole time, and others who have been here for 15 or 20 years."
The Farmington show is so popular with vendors, she said, that there is a long waiting list to secure a spot in the show — even with 10 or so vendors displaying their wares at tables set up outside the civic center. Some come from as far away as Arkansas, California, Utah and Arizona, and Calvert said the show occasionally attracts dealers from such places as Oregon or even North Carolina.
"Most of our dealers say this is one of the best shows they have," Calvert said, explaining that many visitors like to give the items a thorough look on the opening day, mull over their choices, then return Saturday or Sunday to make their purchases. Some of those customers are artists or jewelers looking for materials to work with, while others are people searching for something that just catches their eye.
Raffle prizes will be awarded at the conclusion of the show, she said, with an 80-pound amethyst cathedral going to the first-place winner.
Family Freedomfest is scheduled for the same day from 5 to 8:30 p.m. outside the Farmington Museum & Gateway Park, 3041 E. Main St. Penny Jew-Garcia, executive administrative assistant for the Farmington Museum Foundation, said the event was moved to the museum grounds this year after being held at the E3 Children's Museum & Science Center in the past.
"We decided to do something different and something new to see if we could get more families," she said.
The event — which features an ice cream social, a yo-yo demonstration and contest, and musical performances by San Juan College's Company, the Delbert Anderson Trio and the Kissmah Brass Band — draws a crowd of several hundred people, Jew-Garcia said, adding that proceeds from the ice cream social are used to help bring traveling exhibitions to the museum.
The day's activities come to an end at approximately 9:25 p.m. with a fireworks display originating from Sullivan Hill. Stinson said the show lasts some 15 minutes, and the front parking lots at the museum provide the perfect vantage point from which to view the fireworks.
Saturday, July 4 also offers a full slate of events. The Party in the Park takes place from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Brookside Park with food, vendors, a petting zoo, live music by Mystic Moonlight, and other family-oriented games and activities. Among those are a skateboard competition at 11 a.m., a water balloon fight at 2 p.m. and a pizza-eating contest at 3 p.m.
"You can be there all day long," Stinson said. "And then about the time you think you can't take the heat, the fire department is good about coming down and giving everybody a good spray."
The event winds up in time to allow everyone to get downtown to secure a good viewing spot for the annual Freedom Days Electric Lights Parade, which is another highlight of the four-day celebration, Stinson said.
"Farmington loves a parade," she said.
The day concludes with the annual Tommy Bolack fireworks display originating from the bluffs behind the B-Square Ranch south of Farmington. Bolack, who funds the show himself at a cost of $6,000, said he's been doing the show for more than 20 years. He said he started it during an exceptionally dry year, hoping that his show might discourage local young people from setting off their own fireworks and perhaps starting wildfires.
Bolack's show lasts approximately 40 minutes — much longer than any other fireworks display in the region, which is what makes it such a draw throughout the Four Corners, he said. The display includes some 2,500 shots.
"In this display, you'll see stuff you won't see anywhere else," he said, explaining that he serves as the technician for the show instead of employing a contractor.
Bolack said he tries to do something different every year, and for this year's display, he's attempting to accommodate the wishes of a local couple that plans to get married Saturday. Bolack is trying to incorporate a shot that explodes as a red heart, but he offered no guarantees it would actually turn out as planned.
"Hopefully, it will be right side up and facing them when it explodes," he said, explaining that such shots are unpredictable.
Bolack said he has added more 12-inch mortars to this year's show, and some of the fireworks will reach a quarter of a mile into the sky, making them visible from a great distance.
"The best viewing is all over south Farmington along U.S. 64," he said.
Bolack has been working on the show for the last month and said the late arrival of some materials put him a little behind schedule. But — aside from an untimely downpour — he's not anticipating any hold-ups. If it is rained out, the display will be rescheduled for the same time on Sunday, July 5.
That's the final day of the celebration, which features the Freedom Fours Co-ed Volleyball Tournament from 8 a.m. to dusk at Brookside Park and the final day of the Gem & Mineral Show. Four Corners residents who haven't gotten enough of the fireworks at that point can enjoy the weekend's final display, a show at 9:15 p.m. at the River Walk in Bloomfield.
Stinson said all the Freedom Days events are popular and draw their own crowd.
"I just hope people really get out and enjoy it — and remember what the holiday is all about," she said.