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Boaters' outlook is warmed by BoomDays Weekend of celebrating reaches peak in Youngstown as ice boom's removal opens the way to spring season

Hundreds of people took part in a weekend-long celebration of the symbolic end of winter -- the removal of the Niagara River ice boom -- and Sunday, for the first time, events culminated at the Youngstown Yacht Club.

The fifth annual BoomDays featured events that included entertainment, re-enactments and fireworks from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario this year. It was first organized as a one-day event by local business-people who wanted to mark the coming of spring and draw attention to local waterways.

"We're trying to celebrate places where there is access to the water," said original organizer Rick Smith, president of Rigidized Metals Corp. "Yes, we want more venues to be on the water, but unless you get people to look and see that it's beautiful, . . . that won't happen."

Events were held Friday at the Chief Petty Officer's Club in Buffalo, Saturday at the LaSalle Yacht Club in Niagara Falls, and ended on a rainy Sunday afternoon at the Youngstown club. Organizers estimate that 600 people attended events over the three days.

Some local sailors looked longingly at the ice that still clung to the shores, or floated in the water, near the mouth of the Niagara River on Sunday.

"It's important for the boom to go away so we can launch our boats and get our season started," said MaryAlice Eckert, commodore of the Youngstown club, pointing outside toward several moored boats. "Usually this yard is filled with people sanding, polishing and getting their boats ready."

The ice boom, a series of linked steel pontoons attached to the bottom of the river, prevents ice from flowing down the Niagara River and clogging the intakes of the New York Power Authority and Ontario Power Generation.

The International Niagara Board of Control announced a little over a week ago that the ice pack on Lake Erie had melted to 240 square miles, triggering a removal process that started Thursday.

However, the cold weather and the lingering ice have delayed the start of the season, meaning that local boaters will have to make the most of the good weather once it begins, Eckert said.

Last year, the 22-section boom was pulled from across the source of the Niagara River on March 21. The earliest removal was March 5, 1998, the latest May 3, 1971.

It was clear Sunday that the recent blast of cold will not keep local residents inside much longer.

David and Cathy Fitzpatrick of Buffalo attended all three days of the festival and said that it allowed them to get a glimpse of several clubs they've never visited before.

The event was open and free to the public. Organizers asked for a $5 donation for a "Passport to Spring" that was stamped as participants made their way to the restaurants and clubs that took part.

"We just wanted something to do," David Fitzpatrick said, to which his wife, Cathy, added, "And we're waiting for spring."

The Sellon family of East Aurora said they enjoyed the drive to Youngstown on Sunday, and decided to take a tour of a Coast Guard boat at the event.

Don and Tina Sellon were impressed with the navigation system on the small motor craft, and their 17-year-old son, Daniel, and 13-year-old daughter, Cara, said they look forward to warmer weather, when they'll be taking out the family boat.

Don Sellon expected that Sunday's event would have been larger, and added, "I wish the Buffalo waterfront was more developed."

That was a desire shared by many, and Smith said he plans to attract more restaurants and places with waterfront access to participate in next year's BoomDays.

Adam Burns, a member of the Youngstown club, said, he hopes the event will attract a younger crowd of water enthusiasts.

The club offers summer junior sailing camps that are open to nonmembers, which is where Burns said he got his start.

Burns was recruited for college sailing at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., but moved back to the area.

"I think it's a great idea to promote what's here," he said. "This is a hidden gem."

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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