Truckee Fireworks are All About Tradition


By Sven Leff

The fireworks at Donner Lake’s West End Beach have been happening since 1982, and the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District (TDRPD) has been the provider or a partner of the show the entire time. The Fourth of July celebration and fireworks are an event that has built what summer means to the Truckee community, and has attracted generations of visitors, second homeowners, and year-round residents. TDRPD is proud of its role in this history and excited to continue this tradition.

There’s nothing like a grand fireworks show to celebrate the most revered holidays, achievements, milestones, or ceremonies in our American culture, and clearly around the world. There isn’t a better fireworks show in the area on the Fourth of July. In fact, in all my years of celebrating the USA, there is only one show that was more impressive than Truckee’s that I’ve ever seen, and that was over the Minnesota State Capitol with the Minnesota Orchestra performing a choreographed set of patriotic tunes while the fireworks ensued. The color, the surprise, the sound, and reverberation that you can feel in a fireworks display all create the magic of a fantastic fireworks show.

At TDRPD, the thought of switching to drones never crossed our minds, primarily because of the tradition and magic of our fireworks display. Last year’s Fourth of July drone shows around North Lake Tahoe were either canceled, rescheduled, or at risk of being canceled due to winds too strong for drones but mellow enough for fireworks. First-hand accounts of last year’s shows from staff and friends who attended were not positive. Having researched the costs, we found that a typical drone show can cost three to five times what a fireworks show costs, and doesn’t even last 20 minutes. Right now, the technology just doesn’t provide the value or the impact that traditional fireworks provide.


In contrast, for a third to a fifth of the cost, the Truckee fireworks last 22 to 26 minutes. The show is contracted out to a professional company with skilled pyrotechnic professionals, highly regulated by fire agencies, and set off over water, which is very safe and low risk. Every year we commit that if the weather conditions are sketchy, the show can be canceled by the fire chief or fire marshal, who are on site. The past couple of years the show was close to being canceled, but in typical Donner Summit fashion, when the sun goes down the winds subside as well, and the conditions allowed for the magic to happen. 

(Editor’s note: Truckee’s fireworks cost $42,000, per TDRPD. In contrast, the North Shore was facing an extra $20,000 best management practices [BMPs] fee from Placer County, which brought the total cost of fireworks to $65,000.)

Last year was the first year after Covid’s two-year hiatus for the fireworks, and the tradition returned in all its glory. No matter the audience’s political orientation, demographic makeup, or economic condition, as the fireworks began a reverent calm took over the crowd on the beach. For all their individual differences, the people cheered and awed at the display. We were all one people again in a very democratic display of American patriotism. Some people told us they were moved to tears from the return of a tradition that meant so much to them. While some risk always exists, the rewards year after year prove to be far greater, even priceless. This is why we at TDRPD choose to provide a fireworks display to the Truckee community.

For more information on the 2023 fireworks or the July 5th community cleanup, visit

~ Sven Leff, MBA, CPRE, has been the general manager of TDRPD since January 2023. He has been in the parks & recreation industry for more than 30 years, and swears the Parks and Recreation TV sitcom is a true documentary. 


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