Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Waterfowl Festival Continues 50-Year Tradition of Celebrating Maryland's Eastern Shore Heritage

The quintessential festival of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the Waterfowl Festival just celebrated its 50th year November 12 - 14 in Easton, a town that still retains its old-timey charm and is known for its vibrant culinary and arts communities, as well as its historic downtown.



The town's charm translates to the festival itself -- the Waterfowl Festival celebrates the Chesapeake Bay culture, world-class art featuring the waterfowl and wildlife of the Eastern Shore, the region's sporting and hunting heritage, unique historic collections of waterfowl decoys and artifacts, exhibits on conservation activities and of course, regional cuisine.


 

The festival first started in 1971, organized by a group of sporting enthusiasts who wished to highlight the unique culture of Maryland's Eastern Shore. These women and men loved everything the Eastern Shore had, and still has, to offer. They timed this first festival to coincide with the opening of goose hunting season.

Now the festival includes art displays, a variety of vendors, the North American Diving Dog Splash, raptor demos, the World Waterfowl Calling Championship, dog retrieving demos, historic displays of decoys, crafts and more for kids, Eastern Shore cuisine (and local craft beers and wines) music and more!



You don't have to love hunting to enjoy this marvelous Maryland festival -- although if you do enjoy hunting, there's a lot there for you!


The Dogs



You can enjoy demonstrations, hosted by the Talbot Retriever Club, of skilled dog handlers and their pups fetching bumpers (fake dead ducks) from long and short distances.




The crowd filled the bleachers as well as lined up along the pond's edge. We first enjoyed a demo of fly fishing (I now know understand the difference between pole fishing and fly fishing) and then the dogs came out!




Diving Dogs

The Diving Dog Splash runs during the entirety of the Waterfowl Festival. 




Diving dogs is a canine sport in which dogs are enticed to run the length of a dock and leap as far out into the water as possible to compete for height or distance. 




Their owners/handlers motivate them by throwing a prized toy, into the pool, to help them keep their momentum and get the best launch angle possible.




And it is fun!! I could have stayed there ALL DAY watching -- but I had the rest of the festival to go see and enjoy!




So I went back the next day. And got to see Finley soar 19 feet off the dock. I don't know if Finley won, but he definitely had the best form as he jumped into the water! 



Art

The festival attracts the nation's best wildlife painters, sculptors, carvers and photographers, exhibited in a variety of pavilions and galleries in downtown Easton.



While I particularly enjoyed the photography displayed in the Episcopal Church's parish hall, some of the sculpture displayed in the pavilions was inspiring.



Waterfowl Calling Championships

Competitors can speak duck and goose like no one else can! They are immersed in the language of the incredible waterfowl of the region -- and can tell a mating call from a summoning call. They master the variety of complex bird calls, and then compete against each other the for coveted title of World Champion. Callers from all around the world come to Easton once a year to showcase their skills. This was pretty interesting -- and even if you're not into hunting, the skill of these callers is impressive. 

We watched the final rounds of the Junior Duck Caller Championship and the Junior Goose Calling Championship. I could have sworn an entire flock of geese had flown into the building!


Historic Artifacts and Displays

The Harry M Walsh Waterfowl Artifacts display is a mini-museum which explores and traces the history of waterfowling.



You can learn about different decoys, some of the more famous decoy artists, and more about this American folk art. 


Not Just for Adults

The festival is for kids of all ages, including kids who are still kids. There are activities such as the Kid's Fishing Derby (the pond is restocked with 250 trout just before the beginning of the festival), 



duck drawing and decoy painting.



Where to Shop

The festival offered several venues where you could find everything from oyster Christmas tree ornaments to miniature duck decoys.



There was everything from sporting gear to camouflage boats to dog gear at the Sportsman's Pavilion. 



There's also the Chesapeake Market place, where there were hand-crafted jewelry, baskets, Christmas Ornaments and sculpture. This was definitely the right place to get some early Christmas shopping completed!



Easton offers boutique and antique stores galore, but throughout the historic downtown, there's a variety of shopping options. Fashionable apparel, fine jewelry, sportswear, collectibles and antiques, eclectic galleries, and so much more to be discovered.


Where to Stay



There are a variety of places to stay in and around Easton (and St Michaels is just down the road), but for convenience, the Tidewater Inn can't be beat -- it's in the heart of Easton, and thus, is in the center of the festival activities. 



An historic inn, the Tidewater offers the trifecta of convenience, comfort and elegance, and to get to the festival, all you have to do is stroll out the front door.




Where to Eat 



Easton offers a variety of excellent restaurants such as Banning's Tavern, Doc's Downtown Grill and Hunter's Tavern. Pro tip: for breakfast, be sure to check out Breakfast in Easton! 

Fresh baked blueberry muffins at Breakfast in Easton.


But the festival also offers a variety of food vendors offering you Eastern Shore favorites, such as local craft brews and wines and eastern shore specialties such as crab cake sandwiches, oysters just about any way you want them, clam chowder and more.

Each concessionaire is teamed with a local nonprofit organization, another way the Waterfowl Festival supports the local community.



Know before you go: You can find parking at a variety of places near the festival (unless you stay at the Tidewater Inn, in which case they'll valet park your vehicle), but my recommendation is to park at, or near, Easton High School (723 Mechlenburg Ave, Easton). 


The festival runs two bus routes to ferry folks between the various venue locations: the ponds, Easton High School, Easton Middle School, and downtown Easton, with the downtown area serving as the focal point of the two bus routes.



Other places to park include:

  • Kohl’s Easton, Parking Lot: 207 Marlboro Ave, Easton
  • Amish Market Parking Lot: 101 Marlboro Ave, Easton
  • Easton Elk’s Lodge (minimal spots, some handicapped): 502 Dutchman’s Lane, Easton 
  • Easton Middle School (Handicapped only): 201 Peachblossom Ave., Easton

Did you miss this year's festival?  The festival takes place every year on the second weekend of November. Save the date for next year: November 11 - 13 2022.

Website: https://waterfowlfestival.org/







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