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July 17, 2013

Great Bonac Fireworks Tradition Continues



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Ed Gifford. (click for larger version)
For lots of folks across the country, once July Fourth has come and gone, it may be "Hello, summer," but it's also "Bye bye fireworks." Not so here in God's country, as this Saturday the party by locals for locals sets the sky over Three Mile Harbor ablaze with rockets, aerials, fountains and bombettes.

The Great Bonac Fireworks Show this weekend brings Grucci-Fire pyrotechnics to Three Mile Harbor for the 33rd year. Originally designed as a party organized by George Plimpton with his friend Tony Duke, in 2008, just months before show time, Ross Perchick learned the show was not going to happen. Plimpton had died and Boys Harbor, the camp founded by Duke and home to the annual Bastille Day show, was for sale.

Perchik, who started the Clamshell Foundation in 1992 and oversees its popular sandcastle contest each August, said he spent about a week trying to figure a way to keep the fireworks tradition going. "Then I jumped in head first."

"When I first took this over, about five years ago, I naively thought, since I'd been doing sandcastle for so long, how bad could this be?" He learned it could be pretty tough, with "ten times the logistics, costing ten times the money." He said he figured it would take about five or six years to get the process down. On Friday, a harried Perchik juggled a slew of last minute details and joked it was going to be six years for sure, before he had it down.

Part of the last minute work involves mobilizing a flotilla of donation boats to collect contributions from boats anchored in the harbor to view the 'works. "That takes some doing," Perchik said. But the effort is well worth it, since, he said, "The boaters are very generous. We depend on that night to make the budget." Perchik estimated the cost of the show at between $42,000 and $44,000.

"We have a real, real good base of local donors," he said. "They send in checks from $25 to $100, sometimes $250 and maybe one is $1000. It takes a lot of checks to get to $42,000." Part of Perchik's job as organizer is finding ways to increase donations to underwrite the show.

About 600 boats will show up to watch the show Saturday night. Years ago, the organizer recalled, two or three times as many vessels were on hand. The skyrocketing price of fuel is a factor in fewer boats on the water, Perchik theorized.

As a formality, every year the state Department of Environmental Conservation closes the harbor to shellfishing for five days surrounding the show. The closure was based on the huge number of boats that came out in the past. This year, Perchik has arranged for officials to take water samples to see if it can be opened sooner.

There will be loads of landlubbers lining shoreline spots – on the beaches and at road ends all around the harbor. Perchik said between 2000 and 3000 spectators come out for the show.

"This is a tradition for us now," Perchik said. "It's fun, it's free, an easy easy thing to do. All you have to do is sit back and watch . . . if we were so lucky to get just $5 from every person who watched it, we could pay for it."

This week, as Perchik and a core group of volunteers finish up last minute details. Clamshell's founder said he's watching the weather and has his eye on "four different kinds of radar." It's not till next week, he said, "that I get to sleep well. A handful of people always help, but the truth of it is, the buck stops here."

The Great Bonac Fireworks Show will send its first rocket skyward Saturday at 9:25 PM. Want to make a donation? Visit clamshellfoundation.org to learn how.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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