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Fireworks light up pandemic-weary hearts remotely

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Harrison Township — On the last day of August, the skies above Lake St. Clair Metropark thundered and glowed like the Fourth of July.

The Ford Fireworks show, rescheduled and moved from downtown Detroit amid the coronavirus pandemic, blasted off in the new, previously undisclosed location.

While the park was closed to the public, about a hundred onlookers congregated nearby in cars, bikes and lawn chairs to view a kaleidoscopic spectacle that many said they eagerly anticipate each year.

Marvin Thomas, from right, Kim Meerhaeghe, Nick Ewing, Brock Ewing and Jeff Ewing enjoy the Ford Fireworks from Lake St. Clair Metropark on Monday.

 “They put on quite a display," said Dennis Dobbins of St. Clair Shores, who joined his wife, Sue.

The couple opted to trek to Harrison Township and find a prime spot close enough to glimpse the pyrotechnics soon after learning about the secret relocation through Facebook and a news report.

They perched atop a small mound near a car wash sign and gas station before the first swirls of gold, green and crimson burst in the evening sky. The show lasted about 25 minutes.

Some cars pull over on Jefferson Avenue near Metro Parkway to watch the Ford Fireworks from the parking lot of Sportsmen's Direct Bait and Tackle in Harrison Township on Monday.

Social distancing didn't appear to be a problem as clusters of families gathered far apart or stayed in their cars.

Although many spectators lined the street, Sue Dobbins preferred the smaller audience compared to what she experienced in other years.

“We don’t have the crowds to worry about,” she said. 

The event was broadcast on WDIV-TV (Channel 4 and featured music as well as a portion honoring front line workers, organizers said.

In May, The Parade Company, which organizes the show, and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced the show would be postponed and become a TV-only event amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scores of other displays were canceled this year in Metro Detroit during the pandemic.

The fireworks presentation traditionally kicks off the Fourth of July and draws thousands to the Detroit riverfront in late June. It was moved to discourage viewers from gathering in large groups.

Kim Meerhaeghe, right,  Nick Ewing, Brock Ewing and Jeff Ewing enjoy the Ford Fireworks from St. Claire Lake Metro Park on Monday, August 31, 2020.

"This made great sense because of the spacing," said Tony Michaels, Parade Company president and CEO. "It’s really about not allowing people to congregate, and we wanted to be far enough way and not disrupt things. This worked out perfectly."

Officials blocked off the park entrance and intersection hours before the show.

Pat Heitz and Marisa Engel, who both work at nurses in a Beaumont hospital, had planned to ride their bikes there until spotting the blockades. They figured it was for the relocated fireworks, which Engel said she had never before seen up close. So, the co-workers lounged on a blanket on the grass along Jefferson.

Bursts of colors fill the night skies Monday. Some watching the show in person said they preferred the smaller crowd for the annual fireworks display.

“It’s great to have it up here for once,” said Heitz, who lives in Macomb Township.

The park “is an awesome place for people to watch,” said Engel of Grosse Pointe Farms. “It’s exciting.”

Besides the new venue for the event in its 62nd year, organizers said the show was some 25% larger than previous years, boasting an estimated 12,500 pyrotechnic effects.

"We’re very proud to be able to do this and carry on this tradition. The buzz has been amazing. It's still a great Detroit tradition."