During the winter, when Buffalo resident Rick Smith drives over the Skyway
Bridge, he always looks out over the water to see the shimmering icebergs
collected by the Lake Erie ice boom. When he no longer sees the 8800-foot
long maze of steel pontoons, he knows spring is just around the corner. It
was the same thought process that prompted Smith to start an event to celebrate
the boom’s removal—and arrival of spring.
“Even though the ice boom is a part of the region and its geography,
I realized that for most people in Buffalo, it was under the radar,” Smith
says. “People knew about it, but most didn’t know what it was
about, or what it was for.”
Quite simply, the purpose of the Lake Erie ice boom is to keep the Niagara
River from freezing. The boom, owned jointly by the New York Power Authority
and Ontario Power Generation, spans the entire length of the eastern tip of
Lake Erie and was designed to catch ice before it enters the river. Keeping
the river flowing is essential for powering the hydroelectric generating plants
located there. The boom has been in use since 1964.
Extending from the Buffalo Harbor to the Canadian shore, the boom is usually
anchored to the lake bottom when the temperature reaches 39 °F or around
December 16 th (whichever comes first). It is normally removed around the
1 st of April, unless there are more than 250 square miles of ice at the east
end of the lake.
Smith shared his idea to commemorate the removal of the Lake Erie ice boom
with fellow Buffalonians and soon after, “Boom Days,” was born. “We
wanted to celebrate our history, culture, and geography,” recalls Smith. “The
ice boom really seemed to encapsulate that.”
The festival will celebrate six years this April hosting waterfront festivities
from Old Fort Niagara to the Buffalo River. To kick off the event, participants
known as boomers, sign a giant red ball that is dropped into the river
to float downstream and over Niagara Falls. Festivities include food, drinks,
music, fireworks, contests, and educational exhibits.
While boomers cheer the removal of the boom, the device itself, has not been
without controversy. In the 70s local residents accused the boom of causing
climate change in the region. The issue was studied and a report was released
stating that the boom had no impact on local weather. But many still believe
the boom causes the walloping lake effect snow Buffalo experiences in the
winter because the eastern tip of Lake Erie doesn’t freeze over.
Smith laughs the theory off, “Our harsh Buffalo winters make us a hardy
people. We should be thankful, because it makes us strong.”
With the kind of winter weather experienced in their region, it’s no
wonder Buffalonians want to extol anything that symbolizes warmer temperatures. “Once
the boom is removed in the spring and the ice starts breaking up and moving,
temperatures in the region warm up significantly,” says Niagara Falls
historian Rick Berketa, “The removal of the ice boom every year really
is something to celebrate!”
Berketa and Smith can’t say for sure, but both suspect the nearly two-mile-long
Lake Erie ice boom is the longest in the world. “Before the ice boom
was installed in the 60s, ice would clog the water beneath Horseshoe Falls
and create ice bridges. It was causing damage to the Niagara Falls’ attractions
and even caused the collapse of the Honeymoon Bridge in 1938,” explains
Berketa. “They would actually use dynamite to break up the ice.”
Even though it’s a small festival, Boom Days is growing in leaps and
bounds and organizers are hoping for attendance to reach 1000 this year. They
are also trying to make Boom Days a bi-national celebration by getting the
Canadian side involved in the festivities. To watch the boom, check out www.nypa.gov where images are updated every five minutes.
Info to go
April 4 – 5, 2008
Admission: $5.00 to benefit charities
Call or visit the event’s Web
site for a schedule and list of participating ports.
Click here to
read about Niagara Falls ice bridges and ice
booms by historian Rick Berketa.
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