FORT PLAIN — 4th On The 3rd has survived many a disaster to bounce back even stronger.
Just across the past decade, the ever-expanding festival — held annually the day prior to the 4th of July at Wiles Park — has triumphed over a flood, tornado and now a pandemic.
In 2013, the event’s sponsoring group, the Fort Plain Community Activity Council, made a hard decision to host the event despite a flood having ripped through the village less than a week prior. With people still cleaning up and recovering, Event Chair James Katovitch said the FPCAC felt that the community needed — and deserved — a moment of respite and celebration.
The following year, a tornado whipped through the festival without warning, knocking over tents and sending those present scrambling for shelter under the Wiles Park pavilion. While the tornado quickly came and went, the devastation was significant enough to cancel the remainder of that year’s event.
In the face of a rapidly-spreading pandemic, last year’s gathering was the first to be cancelled outright.
As planning for 4th On The 3rd takes months — and with organizers not knowing what the local COVID-19 situation would be on July 4 — the event’s 12 planners scheduled vendors and entertainment while playing it by ear, remaining constantly apprised of new state regulations and rollbacks.
For instance, Chair Ron Dievendorf and Co-Chair James Katovitch (in charge of organizing 4th On The 3rd for the final year) said they were unsure if the celebration would have bounce houses this year — a major attraction for young attendees — until a state ruling allowing such entertainment was made just two weeks ago.
Then, one week ago, the event’s main entertainers, the True Grit Outlaws — a locally favorite band that annually plays various summer shows — cancelled, citing their disbandment.
With that major absence looming, “Spike and the Boys were very good to fill in,” at a moment’s notice, said Katovitch, noting that the also locally-beloved band would now occupy the event’s main, pre-fireworks slot.
Katovitch explained that it’s “been very difficult finding volunteers this year.” With the event being on a weekend, “A lot of people are going out of town,” he said. “This is the first big weekend they’ve been able to get away and socialize.”
“But,” he pointed out Saturday afternoon, “the volunteers we have are doing an excellent job!”
Operating 4th On The 3rd each year requires assistance from about 150 volunteers, including 34 manning the event-long barrel drive alone, with others helping to cook, park cars and perform crowd control.
The event co-chairs noted that, despite pre-event hiccups, 4th On The 3rd was running more smoothly than usual Saturday. Dievendorf said mid-afternoon that there had been “no problems on the day of.” Katovitch and Dievendorf attributed the smooth flow of this year’s event to contributions from “seasoned co-chairs,” who, according to Katovitch, “know what to expect and anticipate.”
4th On The 3rd has grown exponentially since its inception, with Katovitch explaining that across the past 20 years he’s acted as chair or co-chair, its budget has ballooned from $3,000 to $22,000. Saturday’s fireworks display alone cost $7,700.
“We try to make everybody aware of how much this thing costs,” said Katovitch. “And, I think it works to our advantage, because people are willing to contribute $5 or $10 knowing that it does cost so much.”
Katovitch and Dievendorf were excited Saturday to discover that the decision to make available a digital donation option was proving fruitful.
Donors have been incredibly supportive across the years, Katovitch said, explaining of 4th On The 3rd, “This whole thing is about getting people to work together. We’ve hardly ever had a refusal from anyone we approached.” When assistance is requested, whether volunteer time, services or goods, “people are more than willing to help.”
Dievendorf said that when he took over as the event’s chairperson in 2018, he worked to bring in more attendees from neighboring communities, such as his adjacent hometown of Canajoharie. As such, the event’s overarching motto changed from “bringing our community together,” to “bringing our communities together.”
Fort Plain Mayor Mark Nearbin said it was “great” to see everybody enjoying themselves Saturday. “We haven’t been able to do anything like this for quite a while, so it’s nice that restrictions were lifted,” he commented.
“This is a big event for this community, and it’s great to see that we can still get together and have a good time,” especially after so much separation and hardship.
As she manned the constantly-busy children’s section Saturday, volunteer April Johnson agreed. “It’s great to see the kids come out.”
Johnson explained that the only major difference from the previous three pre-Independence Day gatherings she worked was Saturday’s mild-temperatures, which she was thankful for. “The last couple of times,” Johnson volunteered at 4th On The 3rd, temperatures “have been boiling,” she said, concluding of Saturday’s event, “everything is going great and I think everybody’s having a very good time!”