It’s time to stop Rhythm & Booms pollution in Warner Park

By Tim Nelson, chair of Wild Warner

Wild Warner, a nonprofit environmental group, today asked the city of Madison to discontinue the Rhythm & Booms fireworks event, held on the 4th of July weekend in Warner Park for the past 20 years.

Each year at least 13,000 fireworks shells are exploded over the Warner Park lagoon.  Many of these shells have  pressed paper casings about the size of a coconut that are blown to bits and fall back into the water and onto the land.  These shells also contain metal wire, plastic wadding, plastic rope, plastic rods, and the residue of chemicals that give the fireworks their brilliant colors.  It all falls back to the ground.

The 2011 Rhythm & Booms rains debris on the marsh island and Warner wetland
The 2011 Rhythm & Booms rains debris on the marsh island and Warner wetland

Over the years, the city and the Rhythm & Booms organizers, with help from individuals and volunteer groups, have done a wonderful job of cleaning up Warner Park, the paper plates and chicken bones, that the holiday revelers leave behind.  But all of the trash that the fireworks creates, that sinks below the surface of the water, and falls into the cattails and tall grass, that is not cleaned up.

Last summer, the city of Madison authorized a study of the water, plants and sediment of the lagoon and adjacent areas that may be polluted by the fireworks.  Samples were taken and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The results of these tests have not yet been completed.  Until they are, it is proper that the city refrain from authorizing any activities that may lead to further degradation of the Warner Park lagoon and surrounding area.

The Warner Park lagoon and the woods and prairie that surround it support an amazing variety of wildlife. Wild Warner has catalogued at least 120 species of birds that migrate through and live there.  Brown thrashers, bluebirds, catbirds, green herons, wood ducks, sandhill cranes, all nest there.   This winter, pileated woodpeckers have been seen in the park.  Red fox, mink, muskrats, snapping turtles and painted turtles, several species of frogs, toads, bats, many other animals, all make their homes there.

It does not make sense to use this spot for a fireworks show.  If there had never been a Rhythm & Booms and it was suggested today to put it at the Warner Park lagoon, there would be a public outcry against it.  “Take A Stake In The Lakes” , “Clean Lakes Alliance”, and other groups have formed to clean up and restore our Madison lakes.  The lakes are what make Madison unique.

There have been rumblings lately about how Madison has lost its position of leadership among forward thinking cities of the United States.  One way to get in front again is to embrace our heritage, the heritage of  Gaylord Nelson,  Aldo Leopold, John Nolen and John Muir.  That means embracing places like Warner Park and protecting them.

For more information, our previous statements, photographic evidence, and reports on the chemical testing, visit our Web site: