The National Park Service is cautioning those planning to attend the fireworks at Horseshoe Bend on Saturday night, June 28, that the availability of parking will be far less than in previous years. The reason for the reduction is that overflow parking outside of designated areas caused damage to the natural foliage in certain areas. According to park officials, that natural foliage, particularly the sagebrush, can take up to 20 years to regenerate itself.
In an effort to prevent further damage, officials will be blocking the road to Horseshoe Bend as soon as the parking lot is full to capacity, which is an estimated 1,000 vehicles. Overflow parking will be made available at the Crooked Creek Ranger Station parking area and the parking area near the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range. Since these areas are not within close walking distance to Horseshoe Bend, many people parking in these areas will end up watching the fireworks from their vehicles. Vehicles can also park on the shoulder of the road, as long as they are not off the road more than one car length.
“A car length is reasonable, but we don’t want people to think that 50 feet off the road is acceptable,” said Park Ranger John Moore. “This will be strictly enforced to prevent further damage to these areas.
Officials estimate that around 1,300 vehicles transported as many as 4,000 people to Horseshoe Bend to enjoy the fireworks last year. Moore said there is no reason to expect fewer participants this year, so those wanting to watch the fireworks display from the beach area in Horseshoe Bend should come early. Since the park will become fee-free at 6 p.m. on that day, it is suggested that those attending arrive at that time.
BigHorn Canyon Recreation Area Chief Interpreter Christy Fleming said the Park Service is also asking boaters to be off the lake by as early as 5 p.m. and to move their trailers and boats out of the parking area to make room for parking. She said this is something the Park Service is asking out of consideration for others and it will not be mandated or enforced.
“For us, it’s not something we are mandating, but it would be really helpful if boaters could be off the water by around 5 or 6 p.m. and to move their boat trailers from the two main Horseshoe Bend parking lots,” said Fleming. “We’re not going to force it, but it sure would give us a lot more room and we would really appreciate it if people could do that for us.”
She said it’s still OK for boaters who want to stay on the lake to watch the fireworks from their boat.
The Park Service is also requesting that individuals be more diligent about picking up trash this year.
“I was horrified last year by how much trash was left behind,” said Fleming. “The participants who came to the fireworks display basically just left trash all over the beach area. I was super disappointed with the people in our community who would do that.”
Fleming said the fire department will be handing out trash bags this year to people as they enter the area and the Town of Lovell will be supplying five extra trash dumpsters that will be stationed throughout the fireworks area in an effort to alleviate the problem.
“We really encourage people to take care of ‘their’ Horseshoe Bend area by using those trash receptacles and trash bags,” said Fleming.
Park officials are also asking people to follow directions dictated by parking attendants, as there will be fewer attendants this year.
“Last year, we had some younger kids who volunteered to help us with parking and adults were not listening to them,” said Fleming.
“It was hard on the kids last year, so we’re not going to have them out there again this year, which means we will have fewer people to help with parking. So, we are going to take this very seriously this year and if the parking attendant says ‘park here’ that is where you have to park.”
Fleming said a lot of resource damage in the park last year was due to the fact that people ignored the instructions of the parking attendants and parked in off road areas.
Fleming said park service employees have already barricaded some of those areas and there will also be temporary fencing in place to block especially sensitive areas. Moore described the barricades as log booms that look like big telephone poles.
“The goal of blocking these areas is to prevent more resource damage,” said Moore. “We hope that people will not attempt to go over the barricades. Most vehicles would not be able to successfully do that anyway.
“Horseshoe Bend is sparse enough as it is, in terms of vegetation, so we want to keep what we have there and we want to keep it as natural as possible. Our biggest concern, that is because we have reduced the amount of parking, we are going to meet capacity very quickly and people need to understand that when that happens they will need to watch the fireworks from the side of the road on Highway 37.”
Fleming added that last minute volunteers to help with parking are welcome and would be very much appreciated.
“We have contacted several different organizations this year to help with the parking but have been unsuccessful in getting help, but if there are people who would like to come and help with parking that would be great,” she said. “People who would like to help can meet us at the visitors center at 3 o’clock.”
Fleming said many families carpool to the area to watch the fireworks and that is encouraged, especially in light of the parking situation this year. Visitors to the area are also warned that parking and other traffic laws will be strictly enforced, in particular speeding, passing and driving under the influence.
“Some of the biggest problems we’ve had in the past is with people being impatient on their way home,” said Sheriff Ken Blackburn. “This year we will have no-passing signage on the road and this will be strictly enforced, since it has been a major cause of accidents in the past.”
Blackburn added that he is proud of the fact that the event has been accident-free for about seven years and he plans to keep it that way by having a deputy stationed around every half mile along Highway 37.
Fleming and Blackburn said all of the public agencies involved in the event want people to enjoy the fireworks and that can best be achieved if everyone follows the rules.
Each year, the Lovell Volunteer Fire District spends more than $10,000 on fireworks for the event, which is funded entirely by donations. Chief Jim Minchow said firefighters will be asking for donations, which are very much needed this year to support the cost of hiring a professional fireworks company to put on the display. Donations can also be mailed to or dropped off at the Fire Hall, which is located at 314 Nevada Avenue in Lovell.
By Patti Carpenter