And The Rockets Red Glare

CAMPERS KNOW THE FOURTH OF JULY FIREWORKS ARE COMING.

People convene at Echo Valley from all over the Canyon. A curated playlist blasts classic songs celebrating America. Youth campers are joined by guests of Laity Lodge and family campers. Even some of the Foundation’s staff and family from Leakey and Kerrville head to the south end of the Frio River Canyon to see the show. Most viewers find places to sit in the playing field. LLYC campers sit with their cabins. Some spectators make their way to Antenna for an even closer view.

It’s the one night every summer where both Singing Hills and Echo Valley come together for dinner and Roundup. Echo Valley Assistant Director Jacqueline Brustkern says the energy of camp that night is incredible.

“The Fourth of July is something we start planning really early on,” she says. “It’s something everyone looks forward to, and even the staff will work around their schedules and days off to be there.”

LLYC’s directors and Regulatory Compliance Director Sam Rylander call the shots every year, leading a team of roughly a dozen seasonal staff members with safety protocols, fire hoses, and several dozen boxes of fireworks at the ready. The streamlined assembly lines divvy up responsibilities to make sure nothing gets overlooked, from keeping the fireworks queue organized and accessible to hosing down used and dud boxes for safety’s sake.

With everyone and everything in place, Echo Valley goes dark. The only lights are headlamps worn by the fireworks team and the glowsticks worn by campers. The Star-Spangled Banner plays over the speakers, and as the last note holds, the first fireworks launch. Each time a fireball explodes in the air, the people watching are no longer Singing Hills campers or Laity Lodge guests, kitchen staff or activities team, staff, or campers.

Everyone becomes a kid staring wide-eyed at the sky.

“The Fourth of July is something we start planning really early on,” she says. “It’s something everyone looks forward to, and even the staff will work around their schedules and days off to be there.”

The event is definitely special and memorable in its own right, and it’s become more than just fireworks. It’s a celebration: a time to gather as a community that goes beyond campsites, canyon walls, and county limits, bonding people together as they witness something beautiful. It’s a connection: a reminder of what can supersede our differences.

We all know society can be polarizing, especially politically, and that pushes us into judgment and fear. But in moments of beautiful fellowship, moments of collective “oohs” and “ahhs,” moments of shared awe beneath a glowing sky, it’s easier to celebrate together the collective vision of America.

We celebrate because we’re free to practice true togetherness, to welcome and love each other, to reconcile past mistakes that still manifest in the present, and to hope that we can and will be better for the sake of one another.

SPECTACULAR & SAFE

Although fireworks are fun, we take the risks they pose very seriously, keeping close watch for burn bans and proactively safeguarding the Frio River Canyon against wildfires. Preventative work includes regular brush removal, controlled burns, and staff training for fire emergencies.

We go a bit further on the day of the fireworks show, utilizing staff members who are also trained volunteer firefighters and placing spotters at high points around the property like Antenna and a roadside overlook, keeping watch for stray sparks that could ignite the vegetation. This summer, for the first time, our Risk Management team decided to work with a fireworks vendor to produce the show—and to shoot off the fireworks on July 5 instead of July 4 in order to keep costs to a minimum.

We’ve been recognized by the National Fire Protection Association as Firewise due to our preemptive actions to reduce the risk of wildfire in the area.

More from this issue

New Normal: Camps Commit to Mental Wellness

Camp leaders met at Laity Lodge to talk mental health training for staff.

Same As It Ever Was and Always Changing

A Q&A with Laity Lodge team about where they are headed.

A Foot in Two Worlds

Rev. Jessica Kemp explores the question Who is my neighbor?

The Other Side of the Fence Line

The H. E. Butt Foundation Camp has neighbors we can count on.

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