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The amphitheater was originally built in the late 1950's when the property, owned by the Clifton Boys Club, was known as Camp Clifton. The stage was 26 feet wide by 15 feet deep. It had two extremely steep and narrow ramps, one on each side of the stage, leading down to the ground at the rear. The seating area consisted of eight rows of benches approximately 20 feet long with a wooded slope behind them.
Eight years after Jefferson Township purchased the property and renamed it Camp Jefferson, Art Bonito, President of Jefferson Highlights Community TV, envisioned expanding the amphitheater into a suitable venue for presenting summer concerts. Work was started in late summer of 2005. The wooded slope was cleared and graded, and holes for support posts for additional benches were dug by volunteers recruited by Bonito.
The following spring, in late May, another crew tackled the daunting task of refurbishing and expanding the stage. During the course of extending the platform by six feet to the front, it was discovered that the original support posts had randomly settled into the ground, resulting in the stage being more than three and a half inches off level in various places. Two of the stage crew, Bob Keppel and Jim De Young, performed the leveling procedure by jacking up the stage platform at each post, cutting the posts off at the proper lengths, removing the old, deteriorated footings, and pouring new concrete footings. The platform was then lowered to the new footings, resulting in a stage that was level to within one eighth of an inch. In addition to replacing the entire deck because of its poor condition, the stage was widened to its present 42 feet. The ramps were demolished and replaced by three new staircases and a new equipment ramp. New railings, two light stanchions, a "shadow box" backdrop, a stage skirt, and a backstage catwalk completed the stage project.
Electricity and DMX lighting control wiring were provided by the town's electrical contractor. A control deck, handicapped-accessible "sky-box" decks, and a lawn chair area were added to increase seating options. The amphitheater now consists of 28 rows, expanding the seating capacity to 500. The concerts utilize state of the art sound and full concert lighting.
The entire initial process took two solid summers of volunteer labor. Enhancements and additions, such as dressing rooms and full landscaping, have been added since then and will continue well into the future. The vision is unending.
At the end of the 2009 season, the amphitheater was fittingly renamed "The Art Bonito Amphitheater at Camp Jefferson" to honor his vision, dedication, stubbornness, and perseverance in providing a place of enjoyment for the people of the town and neighboring communities.
We, the crew of Jefferson Highlights Summer Concert Series, sincerely believe we have built a unique facility in which the people of Jefferson Township will take pleasure and pride. For us, it was a labor of love.