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Issue 578

03/08/2012 at 4:53pm
Shrimp Festival Parade54th Lions Club Shrimp Festival
Rules This Weekend

For those of you wondering why the island seems particularly crazy this weekend, that's because it's time for the biggest event of the year here on Fort Myers Beach – the Lion's Club Annual Shrimp Festival. This is the 54th year that those hardworking Lions have thrown this shindig to celebrate everything that's shrimp. The following is a summation of everything that's happening this weekend. Read further to find out more about the long and storied history of this island tradition!

Schedule of Activities

Saturday March 10

27th Annual 5K Run

Beginning at 9:15am, runners will take off from Key Estero Plaza at 1661 Estero Boulevard, go along Old San Carlos Boulevard, through Time Square, over the Matanzas Pass Bridge, past Fisherman's Wharf and then back over the bridge to finish at Key Estero, where all runners will have to be off Estero by 10am so the parade can begin. Race day registration is $35.

Matanzas Pass Bridge closes to traffic 9 am - noon

Shrimp Festival Parade 10 – 11:30am

This 2-mile long parade runs down the main street of town (Estero Blvd) from the beach school to Lynn Hall Park and Festival Grounds on the beach. Best parade viewing spots with fewer crowds are generally between the Lani Kai and the Beach Library on Estero Blvd.

Honorary Parade Marshall: Bruce Cermak

20th Annual Shrimp Festival Food Fun & Crafts Expo

More than 100 great Vendors hit the beach 10 am Saturday til 6 PM More than 100 craft vendors at the foot of the Matanzas Bridge in Lynn Hall Beach Park. also Sunday all day.

Official Shrimp Festival Tee Shirts, Tank tops, caps and more on sale at the Festival Grounds in Lynn Hall Park

Wearable unique souvenirs from the beach -

Saturday 10 am til 6 & Sunday til they are sold out.

World Famous Lions Shrimp Dinners!

On the beach and pavilion 10 am Saturday til 5 pm and Sunday 10 am til they're all sold out. Shrimp provided by our local boats

Crowning of the 54th Shrimp Festival Queen

1 pm Saturday -an old fashioned family event with scholarships and trophies awarded to the winners on the beach at the beach pavilion at the county park.

Sunday March 11

20th Annual Shrimp Festival Food Fun & Crafts Expo

More than 100 great vendors hit the beach! 10-5 pm at the beach park

Official Festival Tee Shirts, Tank tops, caps and more

World Famous Lions Shrimp Dinners

10am Sunday til they sell out! At the Beach Park

Admission is FREE and Festival funds raised go to

Ft. Myers Beach Lions Foundation Charities

Visit the Beach Lions Hospitality Area in the park to make a donation or for information on becoming a Lion and doing great things!

Blessing of the Fleet

At 2pm, the Episcopal Bishop and his entourage from St. Raphael's Episcopal Church will board 'Water Music' from behind Doc Ford's restaurant and circle the shrimp docks and mooring area in Estero Bay blessing all boats that are anchored or docked along the shore. Afterwards, the Bishop's boat will lead a procession of pleasure craft and commercial vessels out into the Gulf. Water Music will anchor off of the pier at approximately 3pm, and a wreath honoring those lost at sea will be tossed into the Gulf with all boats receiving a blessing from the Bishop.

Shrimp Festival History

The Shrimp Festival involves the entire community. The Fort Myers Beach Lions have been boiling and serving delicious Gulf Pink Shrimp to festival attendees for over fifty years. The secrets of perfectly cooked ‘peel and eat' shrimp have been passed from boil master to boil master through the years, as well as the secret recipe for the Lions delicious cocktail sauce served as an accompaniment to the half pound of steaming pink gold served at the Festival.

The Shrimp Festival is steeped in tradition on this island and especially neighboring San Carlos Island, as Gulf shrimp have served as the backbone of both economies for over 50 years.

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 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.

Long time island resident, Lion Pete McCagg says; "We cut lots of buttonwood logs on Friday, dug a pit and started the fire about five 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 the gophers for $5.00. 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. 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.

And it all starts with a parade.

For an hour and a half, a colorful menagerie of clowns, floats, cloggers, music and more will wind its way down Estero Boulevard as beads and candy fly through the air to the screaming crowds who will line up as many as ten deep on the sidewalks to take part in the fun. The honorary parade marshal for this year's Shrimp Parade is none other than beloved community supporter and owner of the Surf Club Bruce Cermak. The Lions told us that they are thrilled to give a little back to Bruce of what he gives to his neighbors all year.

"He has been a long time supporter of the Lions and we wanted to thank him for all the support he gives us by letting him be in the limelight for a day!” said Parade Chairman, Lion Diane Clifton.

See you on Saturday!

Keri Hendry
The Lions Club contributed to this article.