Central PA 4th Fest: Volunteers pick up, pack up after State College fireworks show

Central PA 4th Fest already had 600 volunteers. Friday, there were 80 more in the cleanup process.

Bonnie Mayhew, known as the 4th Fest “cleanup guru,” said the extra people were bused to the field behind Medlar Field at Lubrano Park from the Centre County Probation & Parole Department as an effort to complete community service hours.

“They need hours and we need help,” Mayhew said.

Probation Director Tom Young said his department teams up with 4th Fest every year as a way to help individuals get out of the court system.

“It’s a collaborative effort,” Young said. “And it’s nice to get these people out in the community and see the hard work from other volunteers.”

Police caught Michael Arthur, a Penn State sophomore from Philadelphia, earlier this year with drug paraphernalia. Arthur said the court mandated him to do a day’s worth of community service.

“It’s a long process in this heat, but even though I only have to be here today, I’d like to be a part of 4th Fest again next year because I want to,” he said. “It’s a really incredible event.”

Arthur was part of the group that was picking up fireworks debris from the field on Friday.

“We’ve got to get this field clean before the cows get back,” Arthur said.

The field where the fireworks were launched on Thursday night is Penn State agricultural land. Once the field is cleaned of debris, Mayhew said, volunteers then load fireworks tubes into trucks.

But the cleanup process started long before 8:30 a.m. Friday.

Executive Director Bernie Keisling said after the fireworks were done on Thursday, volunteers waited until a safe time to start picking up shells and looking for fireworks that had malfunctioned. He said volunteers were there until about 3 a.m. Friday and started again a few hours later.

He said out of 12,600 fireworks, only 27 did not go off, allowing volunteers to manually light the fireworks at the end of the show.

But Keisling said other than a few minor problems, the 4th Fest went smoothly. A huge crowd was treated to a 45-minute display.

“I woke up this morning to 40 emails from families who had nothing but positive things to say,” Keisling said. “It’s amazing when you have a family comment on the good we do when we really put this event on for them.”

Mayhew said one tree caught on fire, but was immediately extinguished by firefighters.

“It was a dead tree in the field that was smoldering,” she said. “But that’s what the firefighters were here for. To take care of things like that.”

This year, Keisling said 4th Fest attracted between 60,000 and 80,000 people and had a final count of 5,400 guests in the VIP area of the fireworks sections — a 700-person increase from last year, he said.

By the end of the event, Keisling said, volunteers were on the event grounds cleaning up the parking lots so university visitors could use them the next day.

And the planning process for next year has already started.

“We have a ‘lessons learned’ session with our committee,” Keisling said. “What can we do better? What activities can be improved on? What did people like or dislike?”

Volunteers will be back on the grounds again by 8:30 a.m. Saturday. Mayhew said by midday, the work should be finished.

“You would never even know there was a large event here by the time we’re done,” Mayhew said.