Estero Island's biggest annual event of the year is taking center stage this weekend.
The 56th annual Fort Myers Beach Lions Club Shrimp Festival will highlight a celebration that honors the million-dollar shrimp industry that has defined the backyard of San Carlos Island and the Beach for many, many years.
Times have changed since Beach Day -which preceded the Shrimp Festival- was celebrated on a Sunday. Estero Boulevard had no lane markings and sand was the right-of-way.
In the 1950s, the Fort Myers Beach Lions Shrimp Festival was known as Beach Day. History says the FMB Lions Club can trace the transition of the local tradition back to a weeklong celebration from March 2-8, 1959. It was —and still is— a crowd-pleaser along Estero Boulevard and points in between.
"We have a recipe for success this year. All the pieces are in place, and we are ready to go," said Beach Lion President Darby Doerzbacher. "The Beach Lions want to thank everyone in advance for their participation. Without the cooperation of the community, we would not have a shrimp festival."
Shrimp festival action begins early Saturday morning when the celebrated parade begins at 10 a.m. The 1-1/4-mile-long parade runs from Beach Elementary at School Street to Lynn Hall Park on North Estero Boulevard.
The county park will feature the 22nd annual Shrimp Festival Food Fun & Crafts Expo. Festival goers can witness a full house of more than 90 arts & craft vendors and 18 food booths to enjoy food, drink, shopping and fun from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days of the weekend. World-famous Lions shrimp dinners will be available during the event (Saturday until 5 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. until they're all sold out). Local shrimp boats are providing the fresh Gulf pinks. Official festival t-shirts, tank tops, caps and more will be on sale throughout the event. Other than festival grounds, the official Lions 2014 sales outlets are Sun Hardware, Beach Chamber of Commerce and Red Coconut RV Park office.
BRIDGE CLOSURE: Those coming from off-island should know that Matanzas Pass Bridge closes to traffic from 9 a.m. to noon that day.
2014 Beach Lions Shrimp Festival princesses
Miss Erickson & Jensen, Caroline Brooks.
Miss Holiday Water Sports, Bailey Faircloth
Miss Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, Jessica Hoover.
Miss Trico Shrimp, Hannah Lunsford
Miss Gavin's Ace Hardware, Krysta Murray
Miss Moss Marine, Jordan Ward
Miss Red Coconut, Alexandra "Ali" Wiley
Miss Xperia Hair & Spa, Nicole Weigold.
Miss Semmer Electric, Hailey Wright
"Since our sales outlets are donating their efforts in selling these great items for charity we ask the public to support them by purchasing other items from them when they can," said Doerzbacher. "These vendors have great community spirit and the Lions thank them."
The park's pavilion will be the site for the 56th Shrimp Festival queen ceremony at 1 p.m. Get to meet the nine princesses that took part in last weekend's Queen Sunday Social at Matanzas Restaurant. (The establishment provided pizza, wings and soft drinks, while the Beach Lions provided shrimp. Sponsors, parents and organizers attended as well.) Scholarships and trophies will be awarded, and 2013 Shrimp Queen Christina Glase will crown the worthy 2014 queen.
Just don't forget to eat plenty of fresh Gulf shrimp. The Beach Lions have 1,198 pounds of the Pinks.
"This truly beach festival has drawn tens of thousands of visitors for decades for the parade, expo and for some of the best local shrimp you will ever eat," said expo chair Lion Ted Clifton.
All Beach Lions' profits from the weekend festivities will be utilized for a huge list of local needs in the community. Check out Fort Myers Beach Lions Foundation list of charities at www.fmblions.com. Keep that in mind when you are making a purchase.
Complete details are posted on the Festival website at www.fortmyersbeachshrimpfestival.com .
Beach Shrimp Festival History
The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club via the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival raises tens of thousands of dollars for charities like the Florida Lions Eyebank, Baskin Palmer Eye Institute, Southeast Guide Dogs, large print books for the local library, Little League and Florida Lions Camp. But how did all this Beach Tradition and Fun Began?
The first Shrimp Festival was held in 1959. Prior to that, an event called "Beach Day" was held on the Sunday after the Edison Festival of Light Parade in Fort Myers in mid-February. St Raphael's Episcopal Church sponsored the Blessing of the Shrimp Fleet which was held on the Beach Pier, and church officials sold shrimp rolls in the County Park on the Beach.
Also the Beach Improvement Association held a beauty contest in the park. The idea of the Shrimp Festival was to provide the Beach with its own celebration, and to build on Beach Day.
Initially it was to be held on the weekend nearest the full moon after the Edison Festival, but not closer than two weeks after it, a confusing sounding schedule. But it was scheduled that way because the Beach Shrimping fleet was in port around the full moon as shrimping is poor during full moons while the port is deeper to accommodate boat loads of that beautiful pink treasure. Our local shrimp are pink.
The first year was a weekend only event. The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club sponsored a parade from the Beach School to the Lynn Hall Park, the same parade route it takes to this day, and sold Bar-B-Que chicken dinners in the park. Lions members cannot remember when one the members suggested that if it was to be a Shrimp Festival, Lions should cook shrimp rather than chicken.
Long-time island resident Lion Pete McCagg says: "We cut lots of buttonwood logs on Friday, dug a pit and started the fire about 5 o'clock in the morning Saturday to boil the shrimp. This was the primary fundraiser, though we also held a raffle. For the first few years we raffled a television set and later a small boat, motor, and trailer. One year, we got very daring and raffled an automobile."
In the years of 1962 through 1970 Lions raised money by sponsoring a Gopher Turtle Derby. This had been a project of the Fort Myers Lions Club as part of the Edison Festival for several years. They paid the Seminole Indians 25 cents each for about 50 gophers, and Lions agreed to pay the Fort Myers Club 50 cents and save the gophers for the Shrimp Festival. Lions resold the turtles to Beach businesses and/or individuals for $5. They, in turn, painted the shell with watercolor paints and strap lightweight decorations on their backs as advertisement. Gophers, in heats of 6 to 8, were put in an inner circle, and the first to reach an outer circle won. When the Festival was over, all gophers got to be released back into the wild thus saving the turtles and making many folks needing glasses or eye operations very happy.
It was about this time also that the Lions decided that this had really reached the point that it should be a Chamber of Commerce project. But, after one year, the Chamber decided that it was too much work, and the Lions Club agreed to take it back. Local Fort Myers Beach Lions have sponsored the Shrimp Festival every year since with pride of knowing the people who make their vacations plans around the Festival dates and the residents who live and love the Festival as part of their local heritage. See you at the festival!
For more Information www.BeachShrimpFestival.com .
--information provided by Lion Jerry Tatarian