BASS LAKE – Independence Day was celebrated last weekend it all its glorious forms, from time-honored events like pancake breakfasts and small-town parades, to family picnics, barbecue dinners, patriotic displays and even a laser light show over the lake.
“We offered a safe alternative to fireworks, at no charge,” says Michelle Miller of Miller’s Landing, who is secretary of the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“People who were open to something new and just looking to have a good time enjoyed the show and were grateful. It was certainly better than having nothing at all. The truth is, nothing compares to fireworks!”
Safety concerns were a big factor for the big 4th of July weekend, whether on the water, on the roads, or in the forests. With crowded conditions and influx of visitors for the weekend, the Sheriff’s Office took extra measures to make sure everyone enjoyed the weekend.
The Bass Lake basin was run as an Incident Command Operation with maximum staffing on the lake and in the surrounding area. Agencies including CHP, Cal Fire, and the Forest Service were out in force, a fact that was appreciated by most.
Cal Fire’s Volunteers in Prevention (VIPs) fielded ten mobile patrol units and one base station, providing Cal Fire with additional “eyes & ears,” covering 2,900 miles during the two days, and providing 345 hours of donated time. Officials are happy to report that there were no campfires along the lake, and no wildfires in Eastern Madera County over the weekend.
After a day of free activities celebrating the 4th at the Pines Resort, attention focused on the lake in the early evening as one of the night’s highlights began: the boat parade.
“The boat parade was great,” Michelle says happily. “We had 21 decorated boats filled with spirited people singing, dancing and having a great time! It was much more than expected and I am excited to see it grow more each year.”
The nighttime festivities started out with a DJ playing a set of music while Tim Anderson, owner of Nu Salt Laser Light Shows in Las Vegas, ran a live laser effects show that started around 9:15 p.m. Then, they switched over to a preprogrammed 4th of July shot that was 23 minutes long.
From Tim’s perspective on a barge in the lake, the show went well. He says among the challenges that night was the barge itself: it moved too much – a problem that could be remedied in the future with more anchors for greater stability. It was also reportedly difficult for people to hear the sound and see the lasers, depending on their location.
“It was amazing to be in the middle of the lake doing the 360 degree laser light show,” says Tim. “I think the closer you got to the source of the audio and laser show, the better the show was.”
Songs in the preprogrammed playlist included Born in the USA, God Bless the USA, America the Beautiful, Party in the USA and American Girl. The playlist for the preprogrammed show was selected by the Chamber.
It’s possible for the future of any show with an audio component — whether laser or fireworks or whatever — that an AM radio signal could be used to broadcast both the live DJ and preprogrammed music, so people all over the lake could tune in to the station and hear the program on their own speakers on a boat, in the car, or on the beach.
“We had a great time out on the boat,” says Laura Kirk. “The last two or three songs and lasers were the best and the best song they played was Proud to be an American by Lee Greenwood. I understand the reason for no fireworks and totally agree. The best show was being on the boat and looking at all the stars!”
Before the evening was over, a ceremonious call for silence went out in rememberance of two boys who lost their lives in separate watercraft accidents in an unprecedented week of tragedy leading up to the Independence Day celebrations: David Florez, 13, of Fresno and Kyle Farr, 14, of Los Gatos. Florez was struck by a jet ski while being towed by a pontoon boat on an inflatable tube at Bass Lake on Saturday, June 27. Just days later, on the night of Wednesday, July 1, Kyle Farr was fatally injured when the jet ski he was operating struck a moored pontoon boat.
The Chamber wanted to give people the best show possible under the circumstances, and requested the DJ resume after honoring the two boys, and that Nusalt close the evening with more live laser action as people motored away in their boats and gathered their belongings to walk back to their cars. The darker the night became, the more apparent the lasers were from a distance.
Visibility from various locations was an issue for many. It’s easy to look up and see a fireworks show high above. Not so with lasers.
“From Lupine Campground, there was no show, but kudos to them for trying,” says Kirsty Lebovitz, a Mariposa resident who camps at Bass Lake on the July holiday each year with friends and family.
“There was no way to replace the fireworks, so they attempted something else in their stead. It was the right thing to do for the community, and the real deal will be back again, someday.”
The laser light show option was chosen after careful consideration of this drought-stricken season, amidst a “Sophie’s Choice” of alternatives: one was the potential risk to life and tree limb should an errant firework catch the forest on fire; two was to cancel the long-standing and much-loved fireworks altogether; and the final option was to try something new.
That’s what organizers on the Bass Lake Chamber of Commerce decided to do: try something new. With a ban on open fires and all fireworks prohibited this year, the Chamber elected to save the Bass Lake community the stress and worry of a grand fireworks display in the center of a drought-stricken forest, even over a theoretically impervious drought-affected lake.
While some who came from near and far to see the laser show felt the experience failed to match their expectation, to many local residents who were repeatedly evacuated during last year’s fires, and for those who work at the lake or live in surrounding areas, lasers seemed like a terrific way to go.
“We were together as a family at the lake,” said one local. “We swam, we ate, we had a wonderful time. The light show was just a part of it, and we enjoyed the entire experience.”
The Chamber’s decision to go laser also drew national attention.
“Bass Lake received a giant dose of national publicity for doing the show,” notes Michelle Miller. “It’s cutting edge and could possibly be the direction that future shows will move if this drought continues.”
Since no one we know of has access to a working crystal ball at this time, it’s hard to say what’s on for next year. The event this year was a nice benefit for those who enjoyed it, and also helped out some young local athletes who assisted throughout the evening.
“The Chamber of Commerce donated $750 to Yosemite High School Basketball,” Michelle says, as the team was rewarded for voluntarily being stationed at entrances to Bass Lake, to help with parking and directions.
It’s possible a laser show may return in the future, fully incorporating all the lessons learned from Saturday night’s display.
“I am always open for suggestions to make the shows better,” says Tim of Nu Salt Laser. “I love Bass Lake and hope to return soon.“
Meanwhile, Michelle Miller appreciates the laser technology, yet wistfully yearns for a return to the days when rockets lit the sky.
“Our plan is for lots of rain this winter so we can have fireworks next summer!”
Thanks to Miller’s Landing, Nu Salt Laser Light Shows, and the Kirk family for photographs.