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Festival to bring much-needed fun and relaxation

March 8, 2016
By John Morton - Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The time is right for a little escape from reality.

Needing a deep breath and a pat on the back, Fort Myers Beach this coming weekend will get to toast all things wonderful about life here. It comes in the form of the 58th annual Lions Shrimp Festival, giving residents and the projected influx of 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a chance to bask in the sun and fun. The weekend forecast calls for clear skies and high temperatures around 80 degrees.

Considering the ongoing construction, the Lake Okeechobee discharges and the tension over downtown redevelopment, local Lions Club president Fred Schmiesing said a little widespread relaxation is in order.

Article Photos

Skylar Sander, one of this year's Shrimp Festival princesses, shares a laugh during the interview process with LaRoy Bowden. The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club held interviews for all seven girls hoping to be named queen during a luncheon Sunday at Bonita Bill's Cafe on San Carlos Island.

"It's a good time for a neighborhood party - that's for sure," Lions Club president Fred Schmiesing said. "Even if don't all get along right now, we should all stand together and enjoy some good times. That would be wonderful. Really, this a good community-bonding event."

Some much-needed good news regarding the event came earlier when Lee County agreed to suspend for the weekend the ongoing construction on Estero Boulevard, allowing Saturday's parade to remain along its usual route between the Public Library and the foot of the Sky Bridge. Previously, plans where in place to hold it on the island's north end to avoid the construction.

"That came as a big relief," said Yo! Taco manager Cole Lavelle, whose business is along the parade route at 1375 Estero Blvd. "The event has always done us well and we need it this year because of what we've lost with all the construction."

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The popular shrimp-eating contest, which debuted last year, is back this year. Otherwise, the event won't have any new elements, instead relying on the tried-and-true longstanding favorites such as the 5k run, the parade featuring floats and Corvettes carrying the princesses, and the crowning of a festival queen.

On the business front, Schmiesing reports that the vendor spots in Lynn Hall Memorial Park are completely full.

"We hope to raise $50,000 - that's our goal and it's a lofty one," said Schmiesing. All the proceeds go toward the club's charities, many of benefit vision-related causes such as eyeglasses for kids and guide dogs.

Fact Box

What: 58th annual Lions Club Shrimp Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday

Saturday events:

9 a.m.: 5K run from Doc Ford's on San Carlos Island over the Sky Bridge to the Public Library and back (note: the bridge will be closed to all traffic from 9 a.m. to noon).

10 a.m.: The parade begins near the library, heading north.

11 a.m.: The vendors begin sales at Lynn Hall Memorial Park.

1 p.m.: Crowning of the festival queen, Lynn Hall Memorial Park (note: voting is online only and the deadline is 9 p.m. Friday; visit

2 p.m.: Shrimp-eating contest, Lynn Hall Memorial Park.


Vendors operate at Lynn Hall Memorial Park between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

More info: visit

What is new this year is the restriction of tossing beads during the parade, as the county is concerned about them being lodged in the exposed water lines and other underground components.

"Throwing candy is OK, but we want people to be careful about that," Schmiesing said.

Organizers also remind those attending the parade to be very cautious around construction areas, many of which are several feet deep. Additional volunteers have been recruited this year to help steer people away from the hazards.

Meanwhile, many businesses and organizations are busy building a parade float, and that includes residents and guests of the Red Coconut RV Park. They engage in the woodworking and painting of many decorative items that fill a trailer.

"Many people here are artistic, so they get very excited when they get the chance to create," said Dan Walsh, a professional artist and snowbird from Toronto who is leading the Red Coconut's float design for a fifth straight year. "I coach them and try to capture that collective energy."

On Saturday, the clubhouse was just beginning to come to life with people beginning the decoration process.

Don Schmidt, the clubhouse president, used to lead the effort but was delighted to have Walsh step in.

"We are appreciate this guy so much," he said. "Me? I can't draw a straight line with a ruler."



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