Local Group Seeks Environmentally Friendly “Ring of Fire”

08/26/2021

With goals of sustainability and safety, a local movement is gaining significant traction to bring a cherished Finger Lakes tradition into the 21st century. Over the last year, the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Association (CLWA) and Greg Talomie have been on a campaign to educate local communities about the environmental and safety concerns related to the “Ring of Fire” tradition. The concern stems from the hazards associated with incendiary flares; the solution: re-usable LED lights. 

Celebratory traditions associated with the Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day are peppered throughout the country and especially prevalent in the Finger Lakes. These and other seasonal activities allow residents to socialize against the backdrop of idyllic landscapes while enjoying a shared experience. While each Finger Lake has its own traditions, it is Canandaigua’s Ring of Fire celebration that caught Talomie’s attention: “here we are in a land so special and precious that it was called ‘the Chosen Spot’ and we are using potentially dangerous chemicals  every Labor Day – there must be a better way.” 

Today, the ring of fire event serves to illuminate the shores of Canandaigua Lake and other Finger Lakes, but it’s origins are ancient. The ring of fire event was originally a sacred tradition of the Seneca Nation, one of the largest nations in the Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee. The tradition known as “Genundowa,” or the Festival of Lights, largely symbolized gratitude and was accomplished through a series of bonfires. Both then and now, this shoreline lighting display of is nothing short of awe-inspiring. However, increasing concerns about the safety of the light source that became commonplace in the 20th century, incendiary flares, has led many to call for the third generation of source light and it looks like light-emitting diode (LED) flares offer this solution.

The size and duration of the use of traditional flares suggests a minimal impact to water quality, but when used in large numbers during Ring of Fire celebrations, at rates greater than common use scenarios, residual ash has a high possibility of contaminating nearby soil and water. The Finger Lakes are sensitive drinking water sources and essential economic drivers that are currently threatened by pollutants that drive the increasing frequency of harmful algal blooms (HABs), among other water quality concerns. Both economic and environmental advocates contest that it is in the best interest of the region for events like the Ring of Fire to transition from chemical flares to LED flares to protect the region and the local water supply.

In consideration of Greg Talomie’s efforts with the CLWA, Honeoye, Silver, Skaneateles, Keuka, Owasco, and Seneca, along with Sodus Bay and Little Sodus Bay have committed to replacing incendiary flares with their LED counterparts. Through this dedicated and expansive campaign, Wegmans has discontinued the sale of incendiary flares in favor of LED models. Participating Wegmans locations (Auburn, Geneva, Geneseo, Jamestown, Corning, Hornell, Canandaigua, Newark and Webster) will sell two-packs and six-packs of LED flares with point-of-purchase information about the partnership. In addition, Wegmans has agreed to donate to the participating Watershed Councils $2 for each two-pack and $6 for each six-pack of LED flares sold.

Talomie says that he “hopes that over the next few years LED flares will totally replace chemical flares and reduce any harmful impact on the Finger Lakes’ delicate natural resources” so that many future generations may enjoy the area as much as he does.

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