Though police say they’re not anticipating a major rise in attendees for this year’s Independence Day weekend picnic and fireworks at Waveny, the volunteer committee that organizes the event is marketing it as “residents-only.”
The Family Fourth Committee long has urged those planning to attend the event, scheduled this year for Saturday, July 3, to buy parking/entry passes and typically sells more than 2,000 of them. Of those, about 1,800 are purchased by New Canaan residents in a normal year. The standalone fund to put on the event is supported by pass sales (it has about $70,000 in it currently).
Those driving into Waveny or New Canaan High School to park without a pass have been allowed to enter, in part because it’s a practical impossibility to hold up the line talking to them about their passes or trying to have them turn around.
Noting that some towns canceled their own fireworks shows this year due to uncertainty about pandemic-related restrictions, Committee members voiced fears at meetings held May 20 and 27 that the Waveny event could see so many people come that it overwhelms the park and becomes unsafe for pedestrians.
“We’ve had this problem for years,” Committee Chair Tom Stadler said at the group’s May 27 meeting, held at Town Hall and via videoconference. “It’s not a different problem. It’s just that it could be a lot, lot bigger this year.”
The Committee now is seeking to control the size of the event through marketing and by limiting sales of the $35 passes to town residents (nonresidents in the past have paid $50).
On the day of the fireworks, volunteers also plan to place electronic and other signs with messages such as “no pass, no entry” and “sold out” along South Avenue and Farm Road, members of the selectmen-appointed Committee said.
Committee member Tucker Murphy said “putting a fake bar code on the pass” could be effective if the volunteers “could be seen scanning” them by those driving toward Waveny without a parking/entry pass.
“They [the bar codes] will be the same number, but no one will know that,” Murphy said.
Asked during the meeting whether police are concerned about a dangerously high number of attendees, Deputy Chief John DiFederico said no.
“This year may be different given that it’s post-COVID and everybody’s looking to light their hair on fire and get after it,” he said.
“Having said that, I have done this for 28 years and I have heard kind of the same sentiment every single year and I bet you that the percentage of attendees probably doesn’t fluctuate much more than 10%. I always hear, ‘Well, Stamford’s not having it, we’re going to get inundated. Norwalk’s not having it, we’re going to get, you know.’ And I really don’t notice a difference in the crowd that much. So, for 28 years, we’ve handled whatever crowd has come and we’ve been able to handle it. Again, it’s a different year so maybe there will be a few more people. So I’m not guaranteeing it wont’ be. But I will staff it the way that we always staff it with 20 to 25 officers plus a large number of CERT [Community Emergency Response Team volunteers], and we will do the best we can with the crowd we get confronted with. But I’m not overly concerned that we are going to have a 50% increase in crowd size or anything like that.”
Stadler asked whether DiFederico was comfortable with the idea of directing those who did not have a pass away from the main parking areas in Waveny and the high school.
DiFederico said, “We can advertise and market it whatever way you want as far as needing a pass, not needing a pass, getting in, whatever. I can tell you right now, we are not checking passes, we are not checking ID’s, we are not separating people. There is no way we can do that, regardless of what the size of the crowd is. And if it is on the heavy side this year, there is just no way we can park everybody, if we have to stop everyone and have a 10-second, 30-second, 2-minute conversation with them about their pass, where they’re from, whether or not they’ve paid or not—we just have to open the gates and park everybody. But like I said, we can market it in whatever way you want and we will support that, and just say you need a pass, no entry without a pass. We can have that on all the literature and all the signs that we put up. I’m all for that. But the actual in practice as far as parking people that day? We open the gates, we park everybody. We have to do that. There’s no way we can stop and start separating and segregating people.”
This exchange followed:
Stadler: When you say we won’t do that, do you mean the Police Department? Because in past we have done this.
DiFederico: No we have not. We have never done that. We won’t do that. You can’t. There is no possible way to do that effectively and get everybody parked in time.
Stadler: So anybody who shows up gets in?
Stadler: With or without a pass?
Stadler: And you don’t want us to stop them and direct them back out?
DiFederico: No. We can’t.
Stadler: And that’s the way we’ve done it for 40 years. And you are 28 years.
DiFederico: Yup. And I’ve worked the front gate at South [Avenue] and we would just let people in.
Stadler: Would you be comfortable in light of let’s say, New Canaan resident buys five passes for his family but we’ve already let everybody in from Norwalk and Darien and we’ve got no more room. Then what do we do?
DiFederico: In 28 years we’ve never run out of room.
The passes are to be sold online as well as in person at places such as the Recreation Department, Town Hall and Walter Stewart’s. A town-wide mailer is to go out the week of June 11, with the “residents-only” language and a note about a limited number of passes being sold.
Committee members suggested outwardly setting a limit of about 1,500 passes this year.
Murphy said during the Committee’s May 27 meeting that the town didn’t need to put a specific number on it.
“I think we should at the very least say we are limiting the amount of sales,” she said. “A, we will get everybody to get heir butts together and their act together and buy tickets. B, if we sell out, we are going to be able to cut this off and say we are sold out. If we see a response we didn’t expect, it might give us an indication of what we are looking at. We can always sell more. We can always add more. I wouldn’t put a cap out there. I would just say ‘limited.’ ”
The Committee has been guarded about plans for the event.
At their May 20 meeting, Committee members instructed those in attendance, including the press, not to share what was being discussed. The following day, NewCanaanite.com published a “Did You Hear” item regarding the July 3 date. The town then wrongly listed the Committee’s May 27 meeting as being held May 26, correcting it on the municipal website’s calendar only after the meeting had ended.
The Committee hasn’t made clear what its messaging will be in terms of mask-wearing.
Gov. Ned Lamont recently relaxed many COVID-19-related restrictions in the state, subject to guidance from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
The most recent guidance from the DPH says that unvaccinated people “[s]hould continue to wear a mask outdoors when they are in a crowd, at a large event, or in a public place where keeping their distance from others is difficult.” The guidance says that event operators “[s]hould consider requiring attendees to wear a mask when at large outdoor events open to the public and/or where large crowds are expected and unvaccinated people (including children younger than 12 years) are likely to be in attendance.”
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan during the May 27 meeting asked whether pass sales could capture the names and email addresses of residents who buy them.
When Committee member Chris Cody said that street addresses can at least be checked by those selling passes in person, Murphy responded, “I would rather get email addresses” which are “far more valuable for us.”
Committee member Win Goodrich cautioned them against trying to secure that information.
“I want to say this being an IT person, and a younger person that’s very into technology—that it is a very touchy subject to be getting people’s cell phone numbers, their addresses, their house, as well as their email addresses,” Goodrich said. “You are literally crossing a very thin line.”
This year’s fireworks event will feature the Town Band as well as a second band, food trucks, glow necklaces and ice cream concessioners. It will not have a bouncy castle, due to public health concerns, Committee members said.
Stadler said the town has food truck commitments from Melt Mobile, which specializes in grilled cheeses and other sandwiches, as well as Forever Sweet Bakery.
Murphy said, “I wouldn’t even call Forever Sweet a ‘food truck.’ That’s just a cupcake.”
She added, “We need pizza. We need ‘food food.’ ”
The town is talking to pizza and taco food truck operators, among others. Committee member Robin Bates-Mason said she was in communication with a Westchester-based company that could make three different food trucks available for July 3—one with burgers, one with pasta and sandwiches, and one with Tex-Mex cuisine.
Stadler said he was confident that the Committee would be able to arrange for about eight food trucks.
During Tuesday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, officials spoke of the Family Fourth passes as though they were in great demand.
“We are limiting the number of passes, less than we did last year, for residents,” Moynihan said.
Murphy said the passes would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
“We anticipate we will probably sell out and we will use some of the signs to let people know as they are entering the park,” she said. “We are hoping that that will turn away some people that hadn’t bought passes yet. Typically when they get into the park it’s hard to turn them around once they’re up there so we will have signs saying it’s sold out.”