Growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the second weekend in November was always considered a holiday. For that one weekend, our normally quiet little town would suddenly be inundated by tourists, schools would close down, and all the downtown streets would be blocked off (my mother remains constantly furious about the impact the street closures have on her ability to run to the grocery store unimpeded). What is this magical, fall holiday, you ask? Why, it is the annual Waterfowl Festival, and this year from November 12-14, the Festival celebrates its 50th Anniversary (one year late)!
Established in 1970 by a group of outdoor enthusiasts, and scheduled to coincide with the start of goose hunting season, the goal of the festival is to “capture the true romance, the excitement, engendered by the area’s wild birds and the hunting sport they create.” What was once just a few small exhibits has exploded into a weekend of art installations, local bar crawls, dogs jumping into pools (competitively!), and even a raptor exhibition — the birds, not the dinosaurs. There is also a conservation element to the annual celebration. Proceeds are donated to the Waterfowl Chesapeake organization, which supports the eponymous fowl and their habitats.
I know what you’re thinking — okay, cool, a bunch of people are hanging out, talking about birds. Which, yes. That is a thing that happens. But there are also a lot of fun events, local seafood, plentiful drinks, the World Waterfowl Calling Competition, and the opportunity to drop $500 on a hand-carved duck decoy! One of my personal favorite events is the Diving Dog Splash. In this exhibition, a bunch of very good boys and girls get to show of their long-jumping prowess. Labradors, among other breeds, are popular hunting dogs because they have no hesitation jumping into freezing water to retrieve a carcass (or just a ball). The unbridled glee on a puppers face as he launches himself off the dock is worth the price of admission. Make sure you book your tickets in advance!
If you’re a artsy type, there are 5 different galleries set up in various locations around town to take in paintings, carving, sculpture, and photography. The Featured Artist this year is Bart Walter, who sculpted an incredible bronze piece, entitled “Wind and Waves.” Walter’s sculpture “Family Affair”, which depicts a pair of geese and their hatchlings, was debuted at the 25th Anniversary Festival, and is now on permanent display at the Waterfowl Building on South Harrison Street. I have a special admiration for artists because, try as I might, I can never get my hands to translate whatever image is in my mind. Doing so out of a medium like bronze is even more incredible.
Now, I’ve never been hunting, nor am I a nature photographer. I’m just a girl that grew up on the Eastern Shore and has been given a platform to write things to the Internet. But I’m here to say that you don’t HAVE to be a goose or duck enthusiast to enjoy the Waterfowl Festival. Easton is a fun little town — there are great bars and restaurants, a historic theater, a really great park to take your kids to, and close proximity to many creeks, lakes and harbors. Make sure to check out all the small businesses downtown. There’s truly something for everyone — men’s and women’s clothing boutiques, a custom gunsmith shop, jewelry, gifts, cigars, and even vintage books.
Stop by the Tasting Pavilion on South Harrison Street to try out some local food and drink, including beer from RAR Brewing and Eastern Shore Brewing, Greek food from Our Greek Market, LLC, and wines from Cove Point Winery. The Tasting Pavilion is an excellent jumping off point for an unofficial downtown bar crawl. Might I suggest stops at The Washington Street Pub, Banning’s Tavern, and Doc’s Downtown Grille? If you’re looking for more of my particular favorite dining establishments, I’ve included some down below.
Rise Up Coffee Roasters – If you’re looking for a little pick me up in the morning, Rise Up is the only way to go. The coffee is superb, the breakfast sandwiches are tasty, and it’s an Eastern Shore original!
Piazza Italian Market – This is a great lunch option! Try a made to order sandwich or purchase something from their pre-made refrigerator. This is also an awesome place to pick up some cheese, meat, and olives for a charcuterie feast.
Hunter’s Tavern – Located in the historic Tidewater Inn, Hunter’s Tavern is a must visit for peak Waterfowl Festival AMBIANCE. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you can pop into Hunter’s at any time of day for a good meal and some Eastern Shore hospitality.
Plaza Jalisco – This family-owned Mexican restaurant is located right on Ocean Gateway, so you’ll probably notice it on your way into town. The food is great, the margaritas are strong, and who doesn’t love bottomless chips and salsa? If you claim not to, I do not trust you and we cannot be friends.
If you’re a local, leave your recommendations and favorite Waterfowl Festival memories in the comments. If you’re not a local, but decide to check the festival out, I’d love to hear about your experience!