MARCO ISLAND — Islanders love a party.
What seemed like the whole island, along with visitors who came from places as diverse as Immokalee and Kansas, crowded into Veterans Park for the first-ever Marco Island Seafood Festival.
Celebrating the bounty of the sea and inland waters, and donating all profits to charitable causes, the festival included vendors such as Hammerhead Seafood, Gene’s Gator Nuggets, Florida Cracker Seafood, local favorites Nacho Mamas and Paradise Seafood, and Cameron’s Fish & Chips.
Dan MacGregor, visiting from Shapleigh, Maine, chose a plate of frog legs.
“I haven’t had any of these in years,” he said, pointing out that while Maine is also known for its seafood, it pays to eat seafood close to its source, and the Everglades is a great source of frogs.
Attendees also could choose among grouper sandwiches, fish chowder, gumbo, fried clams, shrimp platters, gator tail, crab cakes, and stone crab claws — $2 apiece or three for $5.
For the landlubbers, choices included hot dogs, burgers, sausages, fried chicken, candy apples, ice cream and kettle corn. Beer and wine tents were also doing a steady business.
Once festival-goers made their choices, many strolled over to the cavernous main tent and enjoyed their “catch” at tables set up under the big top.
Jim McCully of Marco Island said his grouper sandwich was “excellent — couldn’t be better,” while his wife, Judy, already had finished her plate of gator nuggets and took the opportunity to try her husband’s sandwich.
While on the midway where seafood was offered for sale, Debbie Odom of Island Hoppers Helicopter Tours was giving away plates of Cajun crawfish and shrimp along with corn on the cob and potatoes at her booth promoting their flying service.
“We went and got 40 pounds of crawfish, and cooked them using an old family recipe,” she said, offering instructions on how to shell and eat the diminutive delicacies.
Dozens of additional booths offered hats, t-shirts, sunglasses, jewelry, pottery, paintings, handbags, barbecue sauce, patio furniture, sculpted birds and fish, and honey and bee products.
At his stand offering signs made to order while you wait, vendor Race Russo of Delray Beach said, “We’re having our ‘gone with the wind’ sale,” after a gust of wind threatened to send his displays to the ground.
For a first-ever event, the Marco Island Seafood Festival ran smoothly, with plenty of volunteers, a user-friendly layout, and details like port-a-johns and trash pickup well under control.
“We’ve had fantastic cooperation from the city of Marco and the police department,” said festival chairman Stan Niemczyk of the Sunrise Rotary Club. “I’ve had some great people to work with to put this together.”
The Sunrise club teamed with the Marco Island Rotary Club and the Kiwanis Club of Marco Island to run the festival.
All profits from the $5 entry fee, beverage sales, raffle tickets and event t-shirt sales will be devoted to the charitable works of the three clubs.
Contact Lance Sheareer at email@example.com.