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 back when Estero Boulevard had no lane markings and sand was the right-of-way.
"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.
Those coming from off-island should know that Matanzas Pass Bridge closes to traffic from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday due to the parade.
"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 atwww.fortmyersbeachshrimpfestival.com .
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.