Twenty-five years ago, Dawn Hanifin said Fort Plain’s Independence Day celebration should be held on the third so she could get a better deal on the fireworks.
The event has changed since. It’s run by a volunteer council now, and it’s a lot bigger, but it’s still on the third.
“People have things planned for the Fourth,” said Community Activity Council Chairman Jim Katovitch, who now organizes the event. “This gives people something to do as a prelude before things get busy.”
Hanifin planned the first Fourth on the Third celebration with $800 in fireworks and a chicken barbecue. A quarter-century later, she’s being honored at the event that’s grown to attract more than 6,000 people and topped off with a $7,000 fireworks display.
It was the growing pyrotechnics expense that caused the planning to change hands.
Ten years ago, the cost of fireworks reached $2,000 and the Village Board decided that was too high for public funding. Then Mayor Tom Quackenbush went to the community and created the Community Activity Council to collect donations and plan the event.
Public donations have foot the bill since, and this year, 150 volunteers will do everything from direct traffic to deep frying dough in the concessions stands.
“We basically turn Wiles Park into a small city for six hours,” Katovitvh said. “It brings the community together. Volunteers will come out of the 90-degree concession stand just covered in grease and say, ‘sign me up for next year.’ At the end, everyone in Fort Plain is proud we pulled it off.”
While Katovitch says the fireworks rival the display at the Empire Plaza, because of the unobstructed view, they’re not the only thing Fort Plain has to offer.
In addition to the usual bounce houses, hot dogs and cotton candy, Katovitch tries to plan a few special attractions.
“If I give people the same thing every year, why would they come back?” he said.
Last year there was a mechanical bull. This year, Rhonda Leavitt will be showing off her extensive reptile collection, and the New York Wildlife Rescue Center will hold its Birds of Prey exhibit.
“It’s definitely an Independence Day celebration,” said local teen Christian Arndt, “but it’s grown to be more than that. It’s a town pride thing. It showcases a lot of local artists, and what Fort Plain has to offer.”
Arndt plays lead guitar for The Dependents, a local band working the Fourth on the Third. The event holds a special place in the hearts of the band.
“This was our first gig two years ago,” he said. “It was going to be our only gig as a band, but after that people started asking us to play all over the place.”
This will be the third time the Dependents play the event, and after dozens of gigs and recording a album, they’re planning a good show.
“We try to mix it up: some rock, some ballads. It’s going to be eclectic, something for every one,” he said. “Plus we’re early enough so we don’t have to play dance music.”
The Dependents play 2 to 5 p.m. followed by Albany band Mark Gamsjager and the Lustre Kings.