Explosive Tradition Lives On

A new sponsor is keeping the fuse lit on Three Mile Harbor fireworks display
When this weekend’s fireworks shows are done, pyrotechnics fans still have the Bastille Day show over Three Mile Harbor to look forward to. Carissa Katz

    It’s a big vision: fireworks arcing through the night sky over Three Mile Harbor in midsummer, just after Bastille Day, when thousands of people have grown accustomed to gathering for three decades now around the harbor’s edges and on boats to see them.
    The annual display started in the early ’70s as a splashy addition to private parties hosted by the late George Plimpton, and became a more public event when the show was moved to Three Mile Harbor, serving as a fund-raiser for the Boys Harbor camp. Tony Duke, who had established the camp for inner-city kids on his own East Hampton property, was a friend of Mr. Plimpton, who continued narrating the shows every year.
    When the Harbor ceased running its camp in East Hampton (the camp property was sold to the county and town this year), Luly Duke, who was Mr. Duke’s wife, presented the fireworks as part of fund-raisers she held for several years. But then, in 2009, there were no plans to continue.
    Rather than see the well-loved community event go dark, Rossetti Perchik, an architect who lives in Springs, took up the cause.
    The Great Bonac Fireworks Show, as the extravagantly pleasing tradition is now called, will go off this year on July 16, just after dark.
    For local pyrotechnics fans, the mid-July display has long offered an opportunity for a post-Independence Day fireworks fix.
    This weekend, there are shows on Saturday at dusk over Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett, sponsored by the Devon Yacht Club, and at 9 p.m. over Sag Harbor, sponsored by the Sag Harbor Yacht Club. The rain date for both is Sunday. In Montauk, the chamber of commerce’s fireworks will go off from Umbrella Beach at 9 p.m. with a rain date of Tuesday.
    While those displays celebrate the most American of holidays, the Bastille Day fireworks (the date was chosen by Mr. Plimpton, a Paris aficionado), “are a real East Hampton holiday,” Mr. Perchik said.
    The founder of the Clamshell Foundation, a nonprofit that has been running the annual sandcastle contest on Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett for 20 years — distributing proceeds to community groups and awarding scholarships to East Hampton High School seniors — Mr. Perchik was no stranger to the complexities of organizing events when he took on the Three Mile Harbor fireworks.
    But it was a bit daunting to try to fill Tony Duke’s shoes. The two met, and Mr. Duke was happy to know the tradition would continue and to hand over the lighter for the fireworks’ fuse, so to speak, Mr. Perchik said.
    The Grucci family, who had been providing its premium show for the Boys Harbor fireworks, also came on board. It has continued to provide a first-rate spectacle at reduced rates.
    Through the Clamshell Foundation, Mr. Perchik is still raising money to pay for the show and, he hopes, make donations to various civic organizations as well.
    Ultimately, he said last week at a lunch table overlooking Three Mile Harbor, the midsummer event will be not only an annual summertime pleasure, but an occasion to celebrate community — a great night that defines the heart of why many strive to live here and also provides substantial support for the community groups that help neighbors in need and work to preserve the environment.
    The recipients of any additional money have not yet been chosen, but, Mr. Perchik pointed out, “We’re community-based, community-supported. Whatever money we spend goes locally. It has to be something here in East Hampton, on the East End at the very least.”
    Since its inception in 1997, the Clamshell Foundation has made $110,000 in annual local grants, including donations to local food banks and environmental groups, particularly for water-quality protection projects.
    This year, a contribution made by a group of anonymous donors, the Friends of Richard Nelson Ryan (an East Hampton resident who died this year), provided almost half of the approximately $37,500 raised to date for the fireworks. A total of $51,000 is needed just to cover the costs of the event.
    Complete information, and an opportunity to donate, can be found at the Great Bonac Fireworks Show Web site, bonacfireworks.org. Donations are tax-deductible.
    “This is our show, put on in our backyard,” Mr. Perchik said last week. “It was always a freebie.” But now, he said, he hopes that residents along the harbor’s coast who host fireworks viewing parties will put donation jars out, which he would be happy to come around and collect, he said.
    In addition, as Mr. Duke had done, he hopes to collect donations from the viewers on boats moored in the harbor for the fireworks, and is looking for volunteers willing to motor around and request them. Volunteers who could solicit donations from those sitting on harborfront beaches are needed, too.
    Keeping the show going was not always a sure thing. The first year, he said, the fund-raising was an uphill climb. “People started sending checks,” he said, but “the first check was for $10,” signed in a shaky hand, as if by “someone’s grandmother.”
    “I was waking up in a cold sweat every night asking, what have I gotten into? But you know what, that $10 meant a lot to her. I came to realize this thing meant a lot to people in this town. You can’t just let it fade out.”
    Mr. Perchik, a lifelong East Hamptoner — his family, once New York City residents, began spending summers in a cottage at Maidstone Park — moved to Tulsa for a time to work for an architecture firm there, but, he said, “I missed the water the whole time I was gone.”
    On the banks of the Arkansas River, there was an annual sandcastle contest, helped along by the Army Corps of Engineers, which dammed the river’s flow a few days before the event to provide a wider expanse of wet sand.
    When Mr. Perchik returned to East Hampton to establish his own practice, “it was a no-brainer,” he said, to start a sandcastle contest here. The event marks its 20th anniversary this year. It takes place on Aug. 6.
    The annual T-shirt made for the event, which has been designed in past years by well-known artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Peter Max, Audrey Flack, and Faith Ringgold, will sport a creation by Kimberly Pilco, a Springs School student who was the winner of a student art competition for the design.