Last-ditch Effort to Save Fish Creek Fourth of July Festival Fails

A last-ditch effort to resurrect the Summer Festival and Fireworks in Fish Creek has come up short.

In January, the Fish Creek Civic Association (FCCA) announced it was canceling the festival and fireworks that usually take place the Saturday after the Fourth of July. FCCA President Denise Stillman cited a number of factors that led to the decision.

“I love fireworks,” she said, “but our festival has become very labor- and volunteer-intensive – and expensive.”

Brian Hackbarth, who has organized the fireworks and festival in Clark Park since it came back from hiatus in 2004, thought he had the financial part of the problem solved in February. A donor offered to fund the fireworks to the tune of $25,000 in matching funds in 2019, with increasing funds each year to follow, up to $135,000 over five years.

In 2018, the fireworks cost $30,000, and the barge to stage them cost another $7,000. Contributions to support the fireworks came to $31,000.

“It’s an extremely generous offer,” Hackbarth said. “This donor wasn’t asking us to spend $50,000 per year on the fireworks. In fact, the donor said we should spend what we’d usually spend and bank the rest in a designated fund to supplement the event in future years, should fundraising come up short.”

When Hackbarth took the offer to the FCCA, the board considered it over two meetings but ultimately said no.

“Brian still really wanted to have the event,” Stillman said. “The extremely generous offer took money out of the equation, but when the donor came back with an eight-page legal document he wanted us to sign for the donation, it took us back.”

Ultimately Stillman said it wasn’t the contract that put a halt to the donation, but the same concerns about staffing and volunteers that played a role in the original decision to cancel the event.

“We still didn’t have a chair for the event or volunteers,” she said. “We were willing to be on board as a sponsor and for permitting purposes, but we just couldn’t provide the resources for the event in Clark Park.”

In the past, that event has included brat and beer sales, plus live music and childrens’ games. For the event to take place, Hackbarth would need to supervise the fireworks from the launching barge, and nobody on the FCCA board was willing to supervise the Clark Park events. The donation for fireworks was contingent on the event in the park continuing.

“We have a human-capital problem all over Door County,” Stillman said. “I can’t fill board or committee positions, let alone volunteer positions in July.”

The FCCA has staffed the beer tent in past years, and the Gibraltar Booster Club has staffed the food tent. Booster Club member Josh Kropuenske said the club will miss the event.

“It’s typically our largest fundraiser of the year,” he said. “It’s a double-edged sword, though. It’s tough to get volunteers for a Saturday in July, but it’s a big revenue generator, and once you’re down there, it’s a lot of fun.”