DekorraFest Fireworks has come to the end of an era. The popular annual festival and fireworks show has been informed by the landowner that improvements coming to the property will not be compatible with the large fireworks display. We are thankful for the use of the property over the years. And glad they gave us enough notice to keep from spending too much on advertising and preparations. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to secure a new location before the July event. We had 14 great years at the location, growing every year.
The setting was great for the event. The Dekorra transfer site was home to the fireworks display itself. The hills to the south created a natural backdrop amplifying the booms. The hayfield across Hall road provided a large expanse for the concessions and events including room for the airstrip for the LARCC model airplane demonstrations. It also provided parking for the 1,300 cars with room to grow for a few hundred more. There may be another location in Dekorra where this could work out. With the size of the shells we were using, the fireworks display needs 8 – 10 acres for setup and a fallout zone. The concession and parking area was 47 acres, but included lots of open buffer space that could be condensed if there is a business or group that wanted to relocate the event. The space used for parking was about 20 acres with two entrances that made leaving after the event quick and easy.
The event grew out of a passion for shooting fireworks by a couple of Dekorra residents. Joe Knox had been doing a family display that kept growing over the years. Mark Niebuhr had been doing much smaller backyard displays, moving to the ice for the Lakeside Bar & Grill 1999 Y2k New Year’s Eve display. Neither were aware of the other’s activities. Instead, Niebuhr and Knox, both licensed pyrotechnicians, first met at a Pyrotechnics Guild International (PGI) convention held in Fargo, N.D. in 2001.
Niebuhr began helping Knox with his backyard display and both were assisting area display companies, when they decided to ask about a town of Dekorra event. In 2003 they got the go-ahead from the Dekorra Town Board to turn the annual displays from the backyard into a community event. The landowner across from the transfer site offered the field for parking and it was a success. We set the date for the third weekend in July, so we could still work for the display companies on July 4th and then get a better rate for the fireworks since it was off-season.
The first official event was 2004. The Lake Wisconsin Lions club became involved to provide concessions. They have been an anchor sponsor ever since. The first several years had Knox and Niebuhr organizing many volunteers for the fireworks display itself. The Lions club organized and staffed the parking and concessions. The event continued to grow. The signature final shell was a huge 16” specialty shell from Japan. The sound of it taking off was unmistakable and this one shell filled the sky for ¼ mile with glowing stars. The display setup volunteers would start assembling the display on Thursday for the Saturday night display. Even with three full days of work, we were dropping and wiring the last shells minutes before the 9:30 p.m. display. In 2008, we noticed storm clouds brewing out of the perfectly calm day at about 8:30 p.m. At 9 p.m. we decided to shoot the show a little early to beat the rain. But the rain didn’t wait. We were shooting the show in the rain, people ran to their cars and watched the display through their windshield wipers. Fortunately, Lion Tim Wiesner had several college buddies helping with parking. They, along with other Lions and good samaritans got covered in mud helping cars over the lip of the hayfield onto the road.
By 2011 the event grew to include more midway activities with kids games, bounce houses, and other attractions. We decided a better use of the volunteers was on the concession side and have the display company set off the fireworks. We also decided to ask for a $5 donation as cars entered instead of collecting with at-will donation jars. Poynette Booster club was helping with parking so Lions could concentrate on concessions and kids games.
2012 was the first postponed event. That was the year of the drought and there was a fireworks ban during July and August. We rescheduled for the Saturday after Labor Day and had a fairly decent turnout for a rescheduled event. Until a severe thunderstorm with cloud to ground lightning was approaching. We rescheduled again for the next night and finally had the show Sept. 9.
2013 was a bittersweet year. The event was growing to include classic tractors and cars. The Lodi Area Radio Control Club was flying their large scale model airplanes. Music and dance acts were added. Snakes Alive! had hands-on reptile sessions. And that was also the year Joe Knox succumbed to leukemia. Joe was big car enthusiast, restoring several himself. So it was a fitting tribute to add the cars. He was also remembered with a barrage of loud salutes and a single 8” shell after the finale of the show that year. Joe was the energy behind getting the show started and bigger and louder is what Joe loved in a display.
2014 was the 10 year anniversary and the Town Park Commission assisted with funds to support a pyro musical display. Ace Pyro, a company specializing in fireworks synchronized to music was selected that year. Some of the best fireworks photos are from that choreographed display. The band cranked up their amplifiers and people tuned their car radios to listen while the fireworks performed to the music.
In the last few years the crowds have grown along with the event. We’ve added art and craft vendors, local musicians, and the Prairie Thunder cloggers. New food vendors and more activities for more ages with the climbing wall and bungee trampoline. We had a double walled alligator enclosure built by Pat and Ryan O’Connor so Tom Kessinich from Snakes Alive! could display and discuss how to wrangle a full sized alligator. All which complemented the attractions that have been long time supporters like the Columbia County Dive Team, Big Jake – world’s tallest living horse, twilight entertainment pony rides and Steve Stein’s pony cart.
Apart from the 2014 Parks donation, the event has not used town funds. It was always self-funded through sponsors, raffle, parking donations and many volunteer hours. The event has been able to give back to community and civic groups that have helped with the event. As much as $2,000 a year has been split between Poynette-Dekorra Fire department, Poynette-Dekorra EMS, Columbia County Sheriff, Columbia County Dive Team, Poynette Boosters, and in previous years Poynette Boy Scouts, Lake Wisconsin Evangelical Free Church, Panther Football, and Columbia County Highway.