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Calgary Stampede Light up the City

July 15, 2012

My wife is brilliant. (I know, y’all are saying “Like you didn’t know that?”) I figure I should get the credit for being brilliant because I married her. But nope, no credit to me. I digress.

So my wife is paying attention to the world a few weeks ago and says “Hey, Heritage Park is doing this cool thing during the 100th Calgary Stampede – we should go”. What’s this cool thing? Let me back up a bit. Because of the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, they’ve decided to go all out with the fireworks. Basically every night the fireworks is happening, they’re going to run it in four different locations, all timed to music broadcast over a couple of the local radio stations. Very, very cool.

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So Heritage Park has it setup so you can get free tickets (limited supply) to come to the park at 8:30 pm on select nights – do rides, visit key places like the bakery, candy shop, ice cream, get entertained, and finish the evening with a great view of the fireworks over Glenmore reservoir. Incredibly good idea! Rhonda went online and requested tickets, and we actually managed to score 5!

We get to Heritage Park at about 8:30, pay $5 for parking, and head into the park. Lots of volunteers around, lots of directions. Since we’re annual pass holders we get free ride bracelets. We get in, Hannah and Josh start hitting rides, Rhonda, Katherine, and I scope out the activity. Some folks are actually staking out their piece of grass, even though the fireworks aren’t scheduled until about 11:00 PM!

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We have a fabulous evening! Got a hot dog. Got some candy, even cotton candy. We took a horse-pulled wagon ride around Heritage Park. (Even saw some things we hadn’t been to before, and marked them on our list to check out next visit). They had a fiddle group, and an AWESOME marching band – all decked out in glow-in-the-dark wristbands on their instruments. We had a GREAT time!

Mayor Nenshi was even there and addressed the crowd with some Stampede trivia. He was fantastic.

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At the right time, all the lights went out, the music came on, and we had a great view of the fireworks. There plenty of really interesting fireworks that we hadn’t seen before, and it was great. Yep, it rained a bit, but we had umbrellas and ponchos, and life was good. Everyone enjoyed the evening! Great job Heritage Park!

Some Constructive Criticism

Bakery
You know, they advertised that the Bakery was going to be open for this special evening. But perhaps someone could’ve mentioned this to the bakers. They were sold out of things like cinnamon buns before the evening even started! We went to the bakery, and were one of the first ones in after the park opened at 8:30 PM. We could’ve bought a loaf of bread, or a cheese bun, and even a cookie. But the famous cinnamon buns from the bakery were not to be had. Needless to say there were a lot of disappointed people. Note to great folks at Heritage Park – next time have some cinnamon buns put aside please?

Bathrooms
So most of the evening was extremely well planned and run. The rides were operational until about 15 minutes before the fireworks were on, and then everyone is focused on the fireworks. Wonderful. However, when the fireworks were over, everyone starts the long trek back to the parking lot. Lots of kids (including ours), had a strong desire to use the bathroom, but the ones at the entrance were closed and locked up for the night. Huh? This was I think just a simple “forget”. I think the bathrooms back at the Shepard station were still open, but you couldn’t walk all the way back against the crowd to get there. Perhaps next time warn us, and we’ll make sure business is taken care of earlier. Especially given the parking lot situation…

Parking
Okay, so normally parking is free when you go to Heritage Park, but this evening there was a $5 fee. No problem, it’s a bargain. I suspect that was to pay for the vast number of parking lot attendants required for such a busy night. However, and I appreciate their help and they may have been volunteers, but it wasn’t done very well. It took us 55 minutes to get out of the parking lot. (And given there were people in the car who really had to go…) Honestly, it was really ridiculous. I think most drivers were pretty patient, and they understood parking lot etiquette reasonably well, but it was poorly managed. Some tips for the parking lot people for next time:

  1. Minimize # of intersections – There were so many different intersections that there was constant bottlenecks. If you block off a few more accesses to the main arteries, traffic will flow more smoothly.
  2. Minimize traffic meeting more than once. There were a couple of places where we met some traffic, then looped around, and met traffic again. It was crazy.
  3. Managed 14th St. lights. Okay, so after 11 PM, 14th is pretty quiet, but the lights certainly favour the main boulevard. If you had some traffic people there, overriding the lights, and letting more people out of the park while the street was less busy, we could’ve emptied way, way faster.
  4. Public Transportation. We were encouraged via the radio and the website to use public transportation, but the parking folks never left a place for the city buses or other mass transportation options to get through the chaos in the parking lot. We would’ve waited even longer for a bus. And frankly, it’s much more expensive for a family of five to take the bus than to park

Overall we had a fantastic night, and overall I think the many Volunteers at Heritage Park did an awesome job! Some of them had been there all day with a regular shift, and were sticking around until after midnight! I think a small amount of tinkering with the above thoughts could result in a phenomenal experience for everyone!

Thanks Calgary!

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