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Shrimp Festival opens Saturday on Fort Myers Beach

A pageant, a parade, vendors, a 5K run — and heaping helpings of perfectly boiled pink gold shrimp!

March 8, 2018
By ANITA FORCE MARSHALL ( , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

What everyone loves best about the Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival hasn't changed since the event began 60 years ago - the huge boiling pots of local pink gold shrimp, which members of the Lions Club cook and serve. The Fort Myers Beach Lions Club and the community all work together and the now expanded and perfected festival has become a must-do every year, even for those not enticed by the thought of the succulent crustaceans.

A pageant, a parade, lots of vendors and a 5K run round out the offerings at the fest set for this Saturday and Sunday.

"Fort Myers Beach is the perfect backdrop for the festival for its obviously long history of being the shrimping capital of Florida, and its eclectic mix of locals, and tourists from all over the world enjoying 'Heaven on Earth,'" said Buffy Roper, pageant coordinator. "Being the mother of six grown children, the part I most enjoy about the parade is the look on the faces of the many children that line the parade route, and the sense of contributing to a community that has given so much to three generations of my family."

It's also something folks see as a small town event made possible by a big community effort.

"This is a 'small town' event that many people who retire to this area appreciate and can identify with," said Fred Schmiesing, festival coordinator. "Our Lions Club has about 30 members but it takes twice that many to do this event. Volunteers come from up north, other Lions Clubs, friends of members, and people around the community who like to and are willing to help."

The two-day event is a great fundraiser for the Lions and all proceeds benefit the Lions Charities that are dedicated to funding the training of seeing eye dogs, making sure every child has what they need for vision, and any needed items to make us all see our world better.

"I enjoy all aspects of the festival. The vendors, food, queens contest, shrimp eating contest, parade and such," said Ted Clifton, expo coordinator. "That said, the most enjoyable part for me happens about six weeks later at our monthly board meeting when decide how to give all the money earned away."

The bridge to the beach closes at 9 a.m. on Saturday so those planning to attend first day activities are advised to come out early.

The 2018 Fort Myers Beach Shrimp Festival schedule of activities includes:

- 5K Run

The adult fun run starts at 9 a.m. before the parade on Saturday. The route is from Doc Fords (708 Fisherman Wharf) to approximately The Goodz store and back.

"We do a 1-mile beach fun run free for all elementary school kids on March 3 and the 5k on March 10," said Liam C. Farrell, Cypress Lake High School athletic director. "The 5k is open to all ages and all ages are certainly represented."

Don't miss the fun running across the bridge and back with no traffic around you.

"Having grown up on Fort Myers Beach, there is nothing like the Shrimp Fest," Farrell said. "I'm turning 40 this year and I still consider myself a beach kid. My favorite part about the festival is seeing everyone go up the bridge the first time and chuckling at the spring breakers who have no idea what they just woke up to."

The Cypress Lake School Booster Club will have a large booth selling food which is a big fundraiser for them.

"Most of all, as a Fort Myers Beach Lion, I know that the all of the fun surrounding the Shrimp Fest supports a very good cause!" Farrell said.

- The Parade

The festival's officials kickoff is the that 2-mile parade, which will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday down Fort Myers Beach's main thoroughfare, Estero Boulevard.

The parade will travel from Fort Myers Beach Elementary School to Lynn Hall Park next to Times Square.

Find your spot early so you don't miss this celebratory parade. The Matanzas Pass Bridge will be closed to vehicles from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Grand Marshall is a former small town queen turned news broadcaster for NBC, Julianne Dell, who will host the ceremony.

This year there are 13 princesses and 13 sponsors: Laurin Henderson with Trico Shrimp, Sadie Hendrick with Erickson & Jensen, Michaela Coons with Gulf Marine, Armani Backman with The Big Daddy, Adriene Bray with Bonita Bills, Savanna Bray with Semmer Electric, Keely Sherman with Sanibel Seafood, Chloe Stam with Propert Medic, Jaden Cordova with Ursinus College/John Doyle, Jaden Nance Jackson with FMB Designs and Remodeling, Kelly DeAzvedo with Moose Lodge, Elizabeth Wilson with Wyndham Garden FMB, Bridgette Taylor Myer with Red Coconut.

"So this year we have 13 pageant contestants," Roper said. "The queen is crowned at the conclusion of the parade; the ceremony takes place in times square on the pavilion. The qualities of a 'great queen' is someone who exemplifies community service, dedication to their future through academic excellence, and a person who demonstrates respect for others."

Judges are anonymous and begin to evaluate contestants weeks prior to the festival.

"The selection process entails a panel of judges who, through a meet- and-greet will ask all of the girls a pre-determined set of questions. At the conclusion of the meet-and-greet the judges, and myself will sit down and discuss the results, and come to a consensus as to who will become the 2018 Shrimp Queen," Roper said. "Through the support of the local Southwest Florida Corvette Club, the girls are chauffeured down the parade route on the back of these beautiful cars. A big thank you (goes out) to the local Corvette Club."

- Art Fair & Food Expo

The Art Fair & Food Expo takes place at Lynn Hall Memorial Park at 950 Estero Blvd. The expo runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days.

"We will have 92 arts and craft vendors and 18 food vendors and all will offer their goods to the public," Clifton said. "You will find many items including jewelry, sculptures, metal work, leather goods, lawn and sun ornaments, hats, clothing, hot sauces, candles, patio furniture, blown glass, numerous kinds of wall art, and lots of unique items."

Be sure to check out the Lions selling the official Shrimp Festival T-shirts and the boiled shrimp dinners to be offered in food alley at the north end of park. Each $13 dinner is a half-pound of steaming shrimp straight from the docks and served with secret-recipe Lions' cocktail sauce and coleslaw.

Festival T-shirts and hats offer a new design every year. After 60 years, they have become a collectors item.

"Somehow, we sell out every year," Schmiesing said. "They will be available at Sun Hardware on the beach, Bay Oaks, Sea Gypsy Inn, Peirview Hotel and Suites, and Gavin's Ace Hardware- and, of course ,we will be selling them in Lynn Hall Park during the Expo. Look for Lion John and his dog, Shadow, who will be selling raffle tickets as well a dog bones for pets.

- Shrimp Eating Contest

A Shrimp Eating Contest will be held at 1 p.m. Sunday at Lynn Hall Memorial Park.

"Everyone enjoys this," said Shelby Stites, Hillgate Marketing Services. "People of all ages come to experience the daunting task of contestants tackling their mound of pink gold shrimp. Right now I have seven contestants, including King Carl, the shrimp-eating champion for the past three years, plus the Princess of Prawns, Rachel Rainbolt, and a Fort Myers Beach firefighter."

It's always fun watching these average-looking people consume extra-large quantities of shrimp to the delight of the cheering crowd.

"Fort Myers Beach is the ideal setting for a fun and relaxed atmosphere with a little bit of partying, a lot of eating and endless sunshine, Stites said. "It's the perfect recipe for a good time and great memories and eating our local pink gold shrimp!"

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