ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine’s iconic crustacean was the guest of honor — and the main course — in Rockland on Saturday and Sunday as tens of thousands of lobster lovers filled Harbor Park for one of the city’s biggest annual events.
Crowds attending the 63rd annual Maine Lobster Festival celebrated Maine’s best-known export with a parade, concerts, contests and, of course, thousands of platters of freshly steamed lobster.
The festival’s industrial-sized steamer — capable of cooking about 1,600 pounds of lobster at a time — had served roughly 16,500 pounds of the clawed creatures by Sunday afternoon with people still lining up outside the food tent.
Tim Carroll, president of the Maine Lobster Festival organization, predicted that figure probably would approach 20,000 pounds by the time the event wrapped up Sunday evening. All told, Carroll estimated that 50,000 people had attended the festival.
“It has stayed steady all day long, and obviously the weather helped,” Carroll said as festival-goers milled about Harbor Park enjoying blue skies, seasonable temperatures and a soft breeze off the water.
Among the crowd Sunday was the Dugas family from the New Orleans area.
The Dugases — mom and dad, Nicole and Pio, and their two children, Jeanne and Max — had spent time earlier in Bar Harbor before heading to New Hampshire and Vermont for a few days. But the family returned to Maine specifically to attend the festival.
“This was our goal: the Maine Lobster Festival,” said Nicole Dugas. “We’re lobster fans, and we love Maine.”
Moments later, 8-year-old Jeanne Dugas would finish third in the annual children’s lobster eating contest in which contestants race against each other to devour the tail and claws of whole softshell lobsters.
Jeanne also had competed in the children’s codfish carrying contest in which participants don a yellow rain slicker, traditional fisherman’s rain cap and rubber boots before hauling the roughly 2-foot cod across the stage into a waiting rowboat.
Also in the competition were brothers Dylan and Ethan Baedke, ages 8 and 7, respectively, from Glen Ellyn, Ill. Like the Dugases, the Baedkes had made it a point to hit the Maine Lobster Festival on their way to Acadia National Park, according to father Bill Baedke.
Dylan, who had struggled to get a firm hold on the slimy cod after it flopped to the floor, summed up the competition this way: “Disgusting but fun.”
Among Saturday’s highlights were a morning parade featuring local marching bands and other musical groups, firetrucks from through the midcoast area, civic groups and businesses.
The parade also featured the 2010 Maine Sea Goddess, Emily Benner of Rockland, as well as representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard Station Rockland and the USS Whidbey Island, a Navy dock landing craft anchored in Rockland Harbor for the festival. The Navy and Coast Guard opened their vessels and facilities to public tours.
The nonprofit festival is an all-volunteer effort, with proceeds going back into the community.
“The thing that is really amazing about this festival is we have about 1,000 volunteers,” said state Rep. Chuck Kruger, D-Thomaston, who helps coordinate entertainment at the festival. “Without those volunteers, we couldn’t make this festival happen.”