(Delmarvanow.com) -- Each October, Chincoteague marks the arrival of oyster season with the island’s famous shellfish served on the half shell, steamed, single fried and dished up in fritters during its annual Oyster Festival.
Often a sell-out event, the festival draws more than 2,000 people each year, and an army of volunteers is ready to dish up the island’s signature shellfish to them Saturday, Oct. 7.
“It takes a large group to put on this event so that no one person is overwhelmed,” said Tommy Clark, the owner of Don's Seafood and a booth captain at the salad bar and shrimp cocktail tent.
The Don’s Seafood owner has been volunteering at the Oyster Festival for more than a decade, starting when he helped haul trash as a fundraiser for his junior prom.
The day is also a chance to catch up with old friends, Clark said.
“I like talking to all the other volunteers, going around tent hopping, and seeing how it goes,” he said.
Sandy Bowden agreed: “You meet so many new people and you run into friends that you haven’t seen in a long time. There are people who have moved away and they actually come back for the festival.”
Bowden has been volunteering for more than 12 years selling hats, T-shirts and other Oyster Fest gear in the merchandise tent.
“I really like the people that I work with,” she said. “They’re a lot of fun, and we just have a good time.”
Bowden starts planning with the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce’s team ahead of the festival, arriving early on Oyster Fest morning to set up her tent.
“We really get reminded of it several months ahead of time, but actual participating is usually the morning of,” she said.
That’s thanks to months of effort by the Chamber, which starts planning for the next Oyster Festival as soon as one ends, said Joanne Moore, marketing and event coordinator there.
“The event supports the Chamber and its mission to attract and increase the number of visitors to Chincoteague Island and support the business community,” Moore said.
“It takes a village,” said Evelyn Shotwell, the Chamber’s executive director.
In addition to oysters served most any way imaginable, diners can feast on clam fritters, clam chowder, shrimp cocktail, hot dogs, hush puppies and boardwalk fries during the event.
Soft drinks are included in the ticket price and beer will be on sale.
The Island Boy Band will return to provide music entertainment and there will be a raffle with prizes from T-shirts and gift certificates to lodging for winners.
Guests can also vie for the title of “best-decorated space” during the festival, with prizes for the winners in the fierce annual competition.
“We all just have really good time. It’s work, but everybody does their part and it’s a fun day,” Leigh said.
“It’s just a whole, complete outdoor festival and atmosphere that conveys the island feeling,” Clark said, “and there’s some pretty good seafood.”
“It’s been going on for 45 years,” he said. “After 45 years, they’ve got it right.”
Gates for the 45th annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival open at 10 a.m. at Tom’s Cove Park at 8128 Beebe Road. Visitors can start feasting on appetizers at 11 a.m. and the full menu is available at noon. The festival wraps up at 4 p.m.
No pets are allowed at the Oyster Festival and all festivalgoers must stay on the grounds after noon. The event takes place rain or shine, although inclement weather has called for rescheduling in the past.
For more information click HERE or call the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce at 757-336-6161.
IF YOU GO
45th annual Chincoteague Oyster Festival
When: Saturday, Oct. 7, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
When: Tom's Cove Park, 8128 Beebe Road, Chincoteague
Info: Click HERE or call 757-336-6161