CONNEAUT – Fireworks won’t be the only thing above Lake Erie during the 2017 Fourth of July Festival.
A World War II Higgins boat used in the June 1, 1944, Normandy invasion, owned by D-Day Ohio, Inc., and stored year-round in Ashtabula County, will be available for donation-only rides on Lake Erie July 1, 3 and 4.
The boat rides for all ages will be accessible from the Public Dock.
The idea to put D-Day Ohio’s boat in the water as a prelude to the annual D-Day Event in August at Township Park was that of Dick Elliott, pastor of Old Time Baptist Church, who stores the boat locally.
“We have enough people to help with the boats, so everything is a ‘go’ for the Fourth of July,” he told the local D-Day Planning Committee at its March 11 meeting.
Higgins boat crew members from Conneaut’s D-Day Event who will share the history of the boats with the public.
Coming for Fourth of July weekend from St. Louis, Philadelphia, Delaware, Columbiana and Ashtabula Counties, crew members will be wearing boat crew uniforms that they wear during the D-Day Event.
“So it looks as actual as we can make it,” Elliott said.
After July 4 weekend, the landing craft – originally designed by Andrew Higgins and used for many World War II amphibious landings -- will stored in the water at Kister’s Marina in Ashtabula until the D-Day Event, when it will returned to Conneaut.
Kister’s Marina is thrilled with the arrangement because it is organizing Wounded Warriors fishing trips.
D-Day Ohio, Inc., COO Lori McLaughlin of Conneaut is excited about the boat rides as well.
She said that the rides will offer D-Day volunteers who are too busy during the D-Day Event the opportunity to take a ride on the Higgins boat.
In addition, local residents who opt to stay away from D-Day crowds at Township Park each August will have a chance to see the boats under less-crowded conditions.
Higgins boats are a popular draw during the D-Day Event and are used to deposit Allied re-enactors onto Township Park beach during the annual re-enactment of the Omaha Beach invasion.
“The town is different during D-Day Week,” McLaughlin said. “It’s busy.”
Partnering with D-Day to help transport and place the boat in the water are Kister Marina, Union Industrial, and Simak Trucking.
Volunteers are needed to assist with the boat rides by signing in boat riders the Public Dock, depending on weather and other circumstances.
Riders of all ages are welcome. All must sign waiver forms.
The Higgins boat will be an effective D-Day Event marketing tool for Conneaut’s Fourth of July visitors
“We will need signage to let people know that the ‘real thing,’ D-Day, will be coming to Conneaut in August, along with a ‘free boat rides’ sign because people may not realize we’re down there,” McLaughlin said.
The boat will not only advertise the 18th annual D-Day Event coming Aug. 17, 18 and 19 to Township Park, but the D-Day Museum at Lake Road and Harbor Street which will be open noon to 5 p.m. July 4 weekend.
Elliott said boat rides will be offered all day July 1, 3, and 4.
No boat rides will be offered on Sunday, July 2.
When asked the hours of the boat rides, Elliott simply said, “Till we drop.”
Conneaut’s Fourth of July Festival this year begins Friday evening, June 30, and runs
through Monday, July 3, with fireworks at 10 p.m. Monday, July 3, over Lake Erie.