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Aided by team of soldiers, West Linn's fireworks display popular attraction

SUBMITTED PHOTO -  A team of 12 former and current soliders help with safety and security and manage the fireworks display, including (from left)1st Sgt. Eric Pettis (retired), Staff Sgt. Victor Gomness, Sgt. 1st Class Tom Waggoner, Staff Sgt. Crystal Cornejo and Sgt. Nick Wolchesky. Fans of West Linn’s homegrown Independence Day celebration — now in its 11th year — won’t be disappointed this year, as it returns bigger and better than ever.

This year’s event will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks system, as well as members of the military and veterans, according to organizer Alice Richmond.

Honoring members of the armed forces is particularly fitting, as the event is largely driven by military volunteers. For the past three years, local members of the National Guard have stepped in to assist with the dazzling fireworks show along the river.

According to Tom Waggoner, a West Linn resident and 24-year veteran of the military who currently serves in the National Guard, it all started when he received a call from Mark Parrish — another local veteran.

“Colonel Parrish called me three years ago, he and I knew each other and he knew I was a combat engineer who worked with explosives,” Waggoner said. “We gathered a few more soldiers and went down and did it, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”

The show, which generally lasts between 20 and 25 minutes, is the product of several thousands of dollars’ worth of fireworks and an exacting preparation process.

TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - Its not all about the nightime sparkles and boom; the Fourth of July event will have music, games and food to keep everyone happy until dark.

“Most of the fireworks are mortars,” Waggoner said. “They shoot up into the sky, and so we construct plot forms for the mortar tubes to go on, and then we will prime the mortars with different lengths of fuse time. That way we know what fireworks will go off at what time.”

Waggoner said participating in the event was a “bucket list” item.

“Who wouldn’t want to put on a professional fireworks display?” he said. “There’s a sense of community, a sense of volunteerism and putting on a wonderful display for the people of West Linn.”

About 12 military volunteers participate every year, Waggoner said, and the majority come from a unit based in Clackamas. While some are in charge of constructing mortar platforms, others manage security at the park or light the fireworks themselves.

“And most of them are combat engineers,” Waggoner said.

Eighty-seven-year-old Richmond has been running the event since its inception, drawing in community members to volunteer, sponsor and raise money for the nearly $20,000 needed for the event.

Speakers this year will include Rep. Julie Parrish, Sen. Richard Devlin and Mayor Russ Axelrod, among others.

Richmond also received help this year from West Linn’s Carol Koran, director of CJ Creations, who Richmond calls her “secretary.” She reminds people that pets and personal fireworks are not allowed at the event and parking is limited.

“While the park is very large, the early comers claim a spot for their blanket on the green and enjoy the park as well until the spellbinding fireworks display enfolds into the dark velvet night sky over West Linn,” she enthused in her press release.

Food vendors will be offering barbecue ribs and chicken, beverages and Sub Zero ice cream. And raffle items are plentiful, including a Pendleton Wool blanket, child’s fire truck, Timberline tickets and certificates for dozens of local businesses. TIDINGS FILE PHOTO - West Linns fireworks display goes on for more than 20 minutes.